As digital transformation sweeps the business landscape, executives and managers are rethinking their business processes. This paradigm shift is important because technology is the lifeblood of industry, the economy and even society at large. People are becoming more comfortable living their personal and business lives primarily through mobile devices, laptops as well, and less so on traditional desktop PCs. Wearable technology, a relatively smaller niche in the overall ecosystem, will eventually compete with today’s mobile devices for digital hegemony among users. But what will be common among all of these ways of conducting business through technology is the need to design components to automate business processes.
As of today, these components are usually realized as microservices in the cloud.
I’ll avoid getting too technical about microservices. Just know that microservices are atomic processes that work together to provide a business solution to a business problem. What that means is that each business process, when well defined, is kinda like a worker just like any other human. Of course, a microservice is very limited to its prescribed business task, minus the distractions that we humans have in our personal lives.
How might this automated worker be visualized for the busy executive to understand? Imagine a bank that offers three account products to the public:
1. Savings Maximizer
2. Checking Plus
3. Secure Safe Deposit Box
Many years ago, in the age before modern automation, the bank would hire specialists in each of these products to manually offer and maintain these kinds of accounts. The workers would use what was called “ticklers” (like paper ledgers) to keep track of account info. With advances in software technology, managing such banking products became more automated. But in their simplest forms, how might we come up with software components for these products? Figure 1 shows one possibility.
Though the three services look cute in blue against a white background, they can’t sit in isolation. They must do something meaningful to deliver real business value in a way that enables executives and managers to then manage the impacted value chain. In a nutshell, our microservices must do the following:
1. Get data from or display data to the user (knowledge worker, the primary persona)
2. Execute a workflow on behalf of a user
3. Get data from or save data to the on prem or cloud database/data lake
In other words, a human user has a certain business objective that the microservice must fulfill, and that microservice needs a dedicated data store to manage the critical business data it needs to satisfy the user. Figure 2 shows the end to end context that supports this flow of business data from the user to the data store.
Ok now that’s a little better. The microservices have end to end context, with the users on the left and the solution tiers to the left. The users only know about the bank app, which governs their user experience (UX). From a business perspective, it would be important to hire technology partners who can pair the UX requirements with the technical plumbing to identify and locate the right microservice for the given user story.
Notice that each microservice has a link to their own databases. This is a fundamentally important part of microservice design that allows the independence of business components, making ongoing development and maintenance cost effective for your organization. If a database goes down for whatever reason, the bank app still have access to the active databases without impacting the user experience.
What’s missing is the fact that each of the microservices can communicate with each other directly (usually by JSON messages) without need to directly access each other’s databases. Also absent is the fact that microservices are usually deployed in the cloud in containers, which encapsulates much of the platform configurations needed to keep the component independently maintainable from a system maintenance standpoint. These cost savings positively impacts the bottom line of the each business product, allowing your organization to in turn pass the savings on to your customers, giving you a competitive advantage. Hopefully as an executive sponsor or manager, you can begin to incorporate microservice thinking into your overall digital transformation strategy.
About the Author
John Conley is a digital transformation consultant for Samsona Software Co, Inc., based in Dallas, TX. His service offering is focused on enterprise and solution architecture, as well as . Feel free to contact him for your business technology needs.