8 years, 7 months ago

Microservices and the role of the digital business architect

Over the last 2-3 years organisations have gone through significant change. Existing capabilities have been transformed, and vast amount of new capabilities have been invested in to ensure organisations remain sticky in the customer’s digital life. Everything from collaboration, to new ways of working has enabled organisations to build deeper meaningful connections with their customers.  While these are great strides the changing pace of technology is forcing organisations to re-evaluate how they deliver digital capabilities.

Organisations need to continually invest in their technology to help them stay ahead of the digital curve

The continued battle with technology

Part of the reason for the re-evaluation is due to the way digital platforms were implemented. Organisations in their haste to become digital created digital silos, and various workarounds were put in place to ensure the organisation at the least had a digital presence.  The legacy challenge still remained, and the ability to deploy changes quickly to meet the demands of customers was and still is a challenge.

So the question is how do organisations make the best use of the technology they have, but become flexible enough to keep up with changing needs of customers.

In this case there does appear to be an answer.

Over the past year of so the term micro services has grown in popularity and does appear to bring the approaches needed to solve the challenges organisation face. Before we discuss its potential alignment to business architecture lets first cover what a micro service is, and why it is slowly becoming the de facto solution.


Is worth mentioning at this point that the term “micro service” and its definition has been described many times, so the intention is to not recreate the definition.

To keep things simple, think of the approach as a way to develop a single application as a suite of small services, each running in its own process and communicating with lightweight mechanisms. To start explaining the micro service approach it’s useful to compare it to the monolithic style: a monolithic application built as a single unit.  This in some ways was the older more established approach to deploying technology, all functionality built in one application.

This older type approach can be successful, but increasingly people are becoming frustrated – especially as more applications are being deployed to the cloud.  A change made to a small part of the application, requires the entire application to be rebuilt and deployed.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 13.31.57

These frustrations have led to the microservice architectural approach: building applications as suites of services. As well as the fact that services are independently deployable and scalable, each service also provides a firm module boundary.

When services have a small focus, they become simple to develop, understand, manage, and integrate

There are already examples in the industry from some unexpected industry players. For example companies such as Netflix, Gilt, PayPal, and Condé Nast are known for their ability to scale, yet even they have recently performed major surgery on their systems.  Their older, more monolithic architectures would not allow them to add new or change old functionality rapidly enough. So they’re now adopting a more modular approach based on a Microservices approach.

Now this is probably reading like a technology article, and the question you are probably asking yourself is what has this to do with business architecture.

Microservices are organised around business capabilities

To define a micro service the approach suggests that service behaviour is organised around business capability. Teams are organised around business capabilities, enabling them to work cross functionally, but also ensuring services are developed from a business perspective rather than a technology lens.

With Microservices, people should be organized around the business capabilities within cross-functional teams: like the “shipping management team

Clearly this falls right in the business architects domain, and while the technology aspects of micro services have been well described, its link to the business is somewhat lacking.

So clearly the answer is to adopt a business capability approach, and we can easily solve the business architecture question.

Sadly it is not that easy, remember we still need to understand how much of the business is digital, have a holistic view of where we need to deploy these new Microservices, but also which ones are actually relevant for customers.

The digital business architect

The business architect in the digital world will have a major role to play, but the key focus will not be capabilities.  To understand how the capabilities are evolving the digital business architects focus will be the alignment of current, and new digital services to the appropriate business capabilities.

This shift ensures that Microservices are still described in business terms, but there is an alignment to the appropriate business capabilities, which need to be uplifted. This starts to build a holistic view of digital in the broader business, and will start to answer some critical questions such as, “how much of the business is digital“, but also “what is left to change”.

flow of people

Bringing service design skills into the digital business architects armoury also ensures the right digital services are created/used at the right placeand timefor the business and its customers.

Understanding the needs of your customers ensures the right decisions about channels and devices you should be focusing on – and optimising for can be made

Clearly this change has huge potential for organisations as they continue their digital journey, but it also brings significant long-term benefits for the wider business architecture discipline.

Beyond these clear benefits there are some other things worth mentioning:

  • Shared Services & Reuse – A view of all digital services, reduces the chances of duplication, and will lead to shared services across common capabilities.
  • Digital Breadth  – Services aligned to capabilities provides a holistic view of digital adoption, by either customers or internal employees.
  • Gap Analysis – Gaps in either digital use or performance can be determined through service and capability alignment.
  • Improved Investment Planning – Project scoping and investment becomes clearer due to a clear articulation of scope, due to service and capability alignment.
  • Outside in design –Alignment of design disciplines with business architecture ensures that digital services are designed and implemented around the needs of customers.

Manage the digital evolution

The rate of digital change is not going to be slowing down anytime soon, and organisations will continually be looking at new technologies and approaches to meet the demands of customers and shareholders.  The concept of Microservices is going to play a huge part in this continued evolution.

The good news is that through all these changes the business architecture role will continue to provide the cohesive views needed to plan, design, deliver, and manage the evolving nature of the digital business and its customers.

Sources: Microservice Image and References: Martin Fowler and James Lewis