Mark McDonald

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Mark P. McDonald
GVP EXP
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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Reusable Services — the bigger the better

by Mark P. McDonald  |  June 19, 2009  |  3 Comments

Sometimes taking the opposite approach is the best way to handle difficult problems.  This happened in the 18th century John Harrison developed a chronometer the size of a large pocket watch as a way to determine longitude in the 18th century.  In the 20th century, Lindberg crossed the Atlantic in a single engine single pilot airplane where others in larger multi-engine aircraft failed.  In both of these cases, the answer was in the small rather than the large.

The idea of reuse and services has been around in one form or another for more than 30 years.  The idea of ‘build it once and reuse it forever’ is very appealing.  The concepts of reuse have been explained as creating sets of building blocks that combine to create new structures like Lego TM building blocks. 

The idea was based on the premise of the smaller the better, the more flexible and the greater possibilities for reuse. 

Reuse in the form of objects, services and service oriented architectures have driven significant infrastructure and application development projects.  Many of these projects have concentrated on building these atomic services in the hopes that atoms can be combined into molecular business processes.  

As part of the 209 CIO agenda we encountered several companies creating value from taking an opposite approach – defining large grain rather than small grain services.

A large grain service centers on a decision or action the enterprise requires across multiple processes.  A large grain service has aspects of traditional services in terms of data, processing logic, and interfaces.  They also have process aspects and can include workflow, as decisions require more than just applying algorithms.

Pricing is one example of large grain processes that provides a single point of service.  One of our case study organizations implemented pricing as a large grain service with the following results:

  • Removed redundant pricing logic from more than 150 systems improving the accuracy and application of pricing decisions across product lines
  • Reducing deal management cycle time by 4 days, giving the company an enhanced ability to respond to changing market conditions
  • Produced a 10% improvement in the company’s quote to cash process, creating additional free cash flow
  • Enabling the enterprise to launch a set of new products and product based services according to the company’s strategy.

Together a single large grain service supported both current operational performance and accelerated execution of company strategy.

Pricing is not the only large grain service.  Other candidates for large grain reuse include employee, authentication and item.  Each of these services involves a decision that drives the economics or operations of the enterprise. 

So, where Harrison and Lindberg solved a large complex problem by going small, CIOs and IT executives should consider going large in their services approach.

3 Comments »

Category: Strategy Tools web 2.0     Tags: , , ,

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Vijay Narayanan   June 19, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. Coarse grained services are also easier to align with business concepts and capabilities. The effectiveness of SOA hinges on how well business challenges and pain points are addressed and reusable services are at the center of these objectives. In my experience, coarse grained services are simpler to understand, can be mapped to needs in automating business processes, plus significantly enhances IT-business communication.

  • 2 Mark McDonald   June 20, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Vijay Thanks for your comments and reading the blog. The point you make is very relevant as the business knows what a price, customer, item etc is because its big enough to matter to how they work.

    If you can share some of your thoughts and experiences in a follow-up comment that would be great.

  • 3 Vijay Narayanan   June 26, 2009 at 5:49 am

    When coarse grained services are tied to domain concepts and they perform a business activity/task they become reusable across multiple business processes. For example, if you have a CreditCheck business service that can determine the creditworthiness of a customer – it can be used with business processes that open accounts, uptier customer service level based on customer segmentation, or fraud detection. The coarse grained service could implement a federated orchestration in the background to update multiple data sources, execute business rules, or even place items on work queues for human users. Regardless of the implementation the service interface should reflect domain concepts.

    You can also use coarse grained services alongside BPM where your process flows can leverage services at various points for automating pieces of the process. The key advantage is that because the coarse grained service encapsulates a business function or activity it should be easier to evaluate service relevance. Instead of a coarse grained service if there were a mix of technical services, and fine grained services the evaluation exercise becomes tougher.

    Coarse grained services also help pursue reuse while executing SOA initiatives and can apply to multiple process automation solutions.