Enabling Reusable Asset Co-Creation

October 25, 2010

In order to get critical mass for reusable assets, they have to be created and evolved in a collaborative manner across development teams. How can we enable co-creation? Several specific strategies can help:

  • Share the source – ever wondered why open source projects succeed when in-house efforts haven’t? Sharing the source code behind reusable assets makes a world of difference. It increases transparency (with respect to capability, behavior, and quality) and provides an opportunity for the developer community to participate in the analysis, design, and implementation activities. More importantly, it enables teams to modify the source per their specific needs and allows them to submit/merge the changes with the main build.
  • Provide detailed documentation for reusable assets that are both available, in-progress, and planned for the future. It can come very handy when there is a design decision to make in a project – time and time again, you will realize the greater the information on existing assets, the easier it becomes to enhance/change them and combine them in new and innovative ways.
  • Explicitly seek participation and design input when creating/updating a reusable asset. This not only increases buy-in from the tech community but also provides new ideas, concepts, and problem solving techniques that the entire department (even an organization) can benefit from.
  • Encourage questions, specially from new members and junior developers – welcome the most basic questions about the reusable asset inventory. Make sure an environment where open, honest exchange of ideas is taking place constantly. Good ideas come from several places and it is critical that developers don’t feel alienated or ignored due to lack of knowledge about one or more reusable assets.
  • Seek out subject matter experts – several developers and business analysts are essential to increase domain relevance, and domain alignment for reusable assets. Pretending to have all the answers or feigning perfection will only reduce the quality of reusable assets and ultimately prove detrimental to reuse objectives.

Several systematic software reuse efforts fail to get off the ground – it isn’t because of inadequate domain variations or severely limiting technology constraints – due to lack of grassroots appeal among the technical community.

Co-creation addresses several issues at once: it exposes developers to high quality coding practices, increases awareness of available assets, and provides a controlled environment to experiment and evolve reusable assets.

Capture Service Metrics

October 22, 2010

Metrics are very useful to understand service usage, volume trends (growth/decline) – leading to improving performance/capacity planning,  diversity of user base, etc.

A service mediation layer can initialize and persist metrics and can help efforts to mine that data to generate reports using the data. What specific metrics can be captured? Here are a few attributes:

incoming time, outgoing time (or publication time) , transport (whether service was invoked via HTTP, JMS, or some other transport), requesting host name/queue name etc. Additionally, if a request processing resulted in an error – error details including stack trace can be captured. Finally, service/operation-specific metrics can be captured – if you don’t have demanding reporting requirements,  these attributes can be stored as a set of name/value pairs.

In a follow up post, will elaborate on how specific metrics can be captured throughout service processing.

Service Enable Business Processes

October 9, 2010

Business processes hosted in a BPM container (whether running in-process or as an external engine) need to be exposed to consumers in your enterprise. Here’s where your SOA efforts can come in handy – these business processes can be exposed as services via interfaces provided in the service mediation layer. Doing so decouples the vendor specific business process interfaces from enterprise consumers and allows for additional horizontal capabilities to be hooked in (metrics capture, monitoring, authentication, authorization etc.).

So what can these services do? Here’s a very simplified diagram of how these services fit in:

These services are commonly referred to as Task Services and they encapsulate operations on business processes.  Common domain-relevant schemas can be leveraged from other services efforts – facilitating consistency and reduce data transformations between the business and services layers.

5 Reasons for Building Tactical Services

October 7, 2010

Tactical services introduce higher than necessary coupling between service providers and consumers and have brittle contracts that forcing service implementation changes on consumers. They do not reuse standard schemas and datatypes increasing data transformation and integration costs and could tightly couple service business logic and transport-specific logic.

In short, tactical services inhibit reusability, increase maintenance costs and reduce the overall effectiveness of service oriented architecture (SOA) efforts.

So, why do teams end up with tactical services? Here are five reasons:

  1. Lack of time to design proper service interfaces – service contracts are rushed to clients exposing needless internal details, introducing redundant business object definitions, and providing inconsistent behavior
  2. Lack of a conceptual data model – if there isn’t a conceptual data model, capturing key domain concepts and their relationships – it is natural that multiple service operations start to define concepts in their unique way.
  3. Insufficient coordination between teams building service capabilities within the domain – when teams don’t talk to each other, many opportunities to reuse schemas, service semantics, behavior, and utilities are lost. As the number of teams increase, there is a greater need for service governance and alignment across projects.
  4. Lack of coherent strategy tying business process management, business events, and messaging within the context of service development. Business processes could be service enabled and standard business schemas can be used to notify interested consumers. However,without an overall strategy – teams will look at these independently thereby increasing implementation costs and missing opportunities for greater alignment.
  5. Insufficient technical leadership – when confronting multiple projects that are either occurring within a short time window or back to back, it is critical to demonstrate leadership. Why? there needs to be strong voice evangelizing use of business facing services, loosely coupled interfaces, and mediating service requests.

Strategies for Varying Service Behavior

October 2, 2010

Services are meant to be building blocks for business processes and could provide functionality that is potentially relevant to multiple applications. In order to fully realize these benefits, it is critical that variations in service behavior are supported.

What are some of the aspects that vary in a service capability? From a functional perspective, a service could support different behavior depending on the characteristics of the invoking client, the nature of data that is worked on, or both. Additionally, a service capability could also provide optional filters and preferences that allow for varying behavior (e.g. a service could break down data into multiple chunks, and returning only those that the client is interested in). Understand your domain to identify service capabilities that could support client preferences.

From a non-functional perspective, response time, number of concurrent requests, volume of requests within a time window, and total number of requests across clients etc. are aspects that could be managed. In addition to response time, data format (supporting plain text, JSON, in addition to XML) could be varied as well to ease integration.

Article: SOA Adoption using Agile Practices II

October 1, 2010

SOA Adoption Using Agile

Part 2 of a two part Article series on SOA adoption is up on the SOA magazine. The first part is here.

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