Service Orientation in Business

Harnessing change from the board room to the data centre

Published/updated: July 2008

by Jon Collins


While change is a certainty in business, some still struggle to harness it effectively
A recent study gathering feedback from 198 senior business and IT professionals in Europe confirmed that change is a fact of modern business life. Obvious, perhaps, but the research also revealed that despite the certainty of ongoing change, organisations vary immensely in their attitude to it and how well they are geared up to exploit or manage it. At one end of the spectrum we see those using continuous improvement and more disruptive change to actually drive business advantage. In organisations of this kind, change is a tool or even a weapon. At the other extreme we have resistors of change who too often put off the inevitable until upheaval is forced upon them.

Harnessing change goes hand in hand with a service oriented approach to business
Consolidation and rationalisation of functional and departmental structures have often been justified in terms of cost savings and efficiency. When going down this route, however, if attention is paid to the proper decoupling of functions and the precise definition of how they interact, the natural result is a more flexible and responsive service oriented approach to business. The principle of service orientation is thus well accepted in business management circles, particularly in organisations with a positive attitude to change. Indeed three quarters of organisations who use change for competitive advantage document parts of their business in a service oriented manner.

A focus on services also enhances IT’s ability to engage and align with the business
When we look at how service orientation is applied within the IT department, we see the same correlations in terms of flexibility and responsiveness, as we do on the business side of the house. It is perhaps unsurprising then, to discover that a co-ordinated approach between business and IT which considers technology in terms of value rather than cost, also goes hand in hand with business characteristics such as a positive change culture and management style.

A service oriented approach to architecting systems also enhances responsiveness
When we look at the technology dimension a little more closely, it is clear that the concept of service orientation that enables organisational flexibility at a business level is also starting to be applied to the design and construction of IT systems. In this context, the term ‘Service Oriented Architecture’ (SOA) is used to describe the same principles of compartmentalisation, decoupling of functional units, and clear definition of interfaces between operational elements that are already very familiar to many business people. And the impact is very similar too according to the research, in that IT departments adopting the SOA approach appear to be more flexible, responsive and better able to maintain alignment with business priorities and practices.

Lessons can be learned from those leading the way
Within this report, we further explore the above findings, then go on to look at how lessons can be learned from the behaviour of those at the forefront of the move to a more harmonious Service Oriented approach with respect to managing both the business and IT for competitive advantage.

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