There is a lot of discussion today regarding Service Oriented Architectures. With SOA, systems are designed to expose services so that other clients/applications can consume them. The resulting system is loosely coupled and the services can be distributed to produce a more flexible system.
Typically when people talk about SOA and services they are discussing the technical services – the interfaces such as web services that provide access to a particular function. Examples of such functions include checking an account balance online or using a remote graphics service to create a bar chart given a set of data.
But what about Business Services? What are they and are they part of SOA? How do they relate to technical services? A business service describes something of value that an organization provides its customers, or something that it uses from another organization to provide its own services.
Business services are at a higher layer than technical services within a SOA architecture. A business service can be provided by a person or people, by technology, or most often by people who use technology. When technology is used, there could be several software services that support a single business service.
There is often confusion between the terms capability and service. If you search on the Internet you will find that there are many views about these two terms and their relationship. I like the view that describes the service as providing access and the means to use a capability. Two hospitals may have the ability to perform surgeries, but only one may have the ability to perform Liver Transplants. The service, Liver Transplant, delivers the effect of using capabilities, where the capabilities are made of the organization’s skills (Liver Surgeons, Hepatology Specialty, etc.) and tools (Surgical Suite, CT scans, Ultrasound, etc.) that enable the service.
My company recently performed a business architecture engagement for a new cancer center. The work involved understanding how several oncology departments work independently and how they will work together using a multidisciplinary approach in the new center. We captured a business motivation model, organization models and process models, for the as-is and the to-be states. We created an accompanying strategy simulation for cancer center planning. These models are discussed in greater detail in the Business Modeling book.
In addition, we created a business service model as it relates to organizations and locations. This model was not covered in the Business Modeling book and our intent on the project was to understand what services are provided by each department and at which location, and to identify the dependencies on other services. Then we worked with the departments collectively to determine what services will be provided at the new center, what are the service overlaps, and what gaps exist if the services they depend on are not offered there or nearby. For example, if in order to provide certain pre-op or post-op services there are dependencies on a phlebotomy service there are three choices, offer phlebotomy service at the center, provide transportation for patients to another location, or change a process so that blood work must occur before or after the appointment.
We have produced a complete business service architecture for a cancer center offering. We created a classification framework that also identifies each service as billable or non-billable, as mission or non-mission critical, as core to the business, or context – one that is not a core capability and could be outsourced. This allows for the creation of service groupings so that an organization can determine which services are an important part of its business where investment is warranted, and which services are not as critical and could be outsourced.
We found the business services to be one of the most useful business architecture artifacts as it provided insight into how an organization views its business and helped identify critical gaps. The resulting architecture serves as a baseline so that other cancer centers that are undergoing transformation can be compared to ensure proper coverage of issues and analysis.