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.