Collaboration Under SOA: The Human Aspects

This book chapter from Executing SOA: A Practical Guide for the Service-Oriented Architect shows how Web 2.0 business concepts apply to businesses, especially those enterprises that adhere to the philosophy of SOA.

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Although the term Web 2.0 suggests a new version of the World Wide Web, it does not refer to an update to any technical specifications, but to changes in the ways software developers and end users use webs. So, it refers to a perceived second generation of web-based communities and hosted services. Those services can continuously be updated and allow various ways of social networking among the users filling the new roles as we described earlier.

The term was brought up at an O'Reilly event in 2005 following a brainstorming session that Tim O'Reilly documented on the World Wide Web. The core idea is to facilitate creativity, collaboration, and sharing among users on the Internet. This applies as well to the relationship between those who create assets and those who consume them, those who provide a service and the technology behind it, and those who use it for their business or just for leisure activities.

Hence, this means a strong involvement of every user, a turn away from IT being a secret science reserved for the 2 percent in population with an IQ over 130, or for people with mathematical thinking who sit isolated in their offices and produce applications that hit the users with fixed screens, and predefined processes. Often the users merely understand the mechanism behind their screens and wonder about weird behavior of the system not suiting the immediate needs in a given business situation. With Web 2.0, IT becomes everybody's thing, and most important, it becomes changeable to one's personal needs. The border between the IT providers on one side and the IT consumers on the other blurs.

The closing of the chasm between IT and lines of business is intended for best success with SOA. Besides that, the young people leaving school and starting their jobs are more used to IT than any generation before. This underpins the move of SOA and Web 2.0 to become the normal way of doing business, communicating, living, and running one's daily errands.

In his Web article, Tim O'Reilly provides detail about how Web 1.0 (the Web we currently use) is going to change toward Web 2.0. Several items show a move from a predefined and company-set way of presenting and doing things toward a community-based approach. So, personal websites will be replaced by blogging (that is, a place where several people post their comments). The wiki technology (that is, a place that allows a community to edit common Web pages) increasingly will be used. He refers to Wikipedia as a trusted replacement for printed encyclopedias.

Wiki technology—a term describing a service on the Web to quickly (wiki-wiki = quick) build, change, and update webpages hosted by a wiki service provider.

At the end, Tim O'Reilly (2005) summarizes the envisioned core competencies for a Web 2.0 company that we are going to explore in this context. According to Tim O'Reilly, the Web 2.0 core competencies of an enterprise are as follows:

  • Services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability

  • Control over unique, hard to re-create data sources that get richer as more people use them

  • Trusting users as co-developers

  • Harnessing collective intelligence

  • Leveraging the long tail through customer self-service

  • Software above the level of a single device

  • Lightweight user interfaces, development models, and business models

With this in mind, we concentrate the remainder of this chapter on those items that immediately support SOA, and that are important to the enterprise architect to consider when helping the company on the journey toward a service-oriented enterprise. Before that, a few more observations are helpful to understand the whole extent of the impact from SOA and Web 2.0 in our societies and economies.

8.2.2 Some Observations of Web 2.0 in Use

We concentrate here on a few, but essential observations that help to understand how Web 2.0 and SOA can generate the desired results for an enterprise. There are many more trends and certainly not yet widely accepted uses and patterns of dealing with and via the Internet that we cannot include in this book. The Internet medium enables the very fast development of new ideas. Known items become obsolete, and with a generally dynamic development, any claim for comprehensiveness in a book quickly becomes outdated.

Therefore, we select a few key observations using well-known examples of today's Internet business world to exemplify how the idea of service-orientation as a platform for the agile business can be applied with today's tools, concepts, and existing services. In the following, we regard three established Internet-based business and community services: Wikipedia, Google, and YouTube. These three examples demonstrate how Web 2.0 elements become the key success factors for these endeavors to start and gain importance, acting as role models for other companies, start-ups, and even for established players in a certain market. More than that, these initiatives and the innovations they bring to the market change the way we do certain things.

8.2.3 User Contribution

The example of Wikipedia.org demonstrates the factor user contribution and adds the aspect of starting and operating successfully a nonprofit organization on the World Wide Web. This wiki-based free encyclopedia allows everybody to contribute and edit the content. Before Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org), encyclopedias were the work of a closed circle of experts, each of them being a prominent luminary in a well-defined scientific area.

Wikis are a way to quickly and informally allow possibly large communities to collaborate on authoring content.

Now the wiki technologies opened it up for a large number of "experts," who all contribute their bit of knowledge and expertise to grow Wikipedia to a global matter. Wikipedia, an artificial word created from wiki-wiki (Hawaiian for quick) and encyclopedia, is a website launched in 2001 for hosting multinational, multilingual, web-based encyclopedias. The content and formatting are created by everybody who wants to contribute.

The Wikipedia community meanwhile has created an immense amount of useful information, not just in English. Today, the Wikipedia site shows articles in more than 200 languages, of which English has grown to more than 2 million articles, followed by the German (700,000+ articles) and the French (600,000+ articles) section. Among the languages, you also find extinct ones like Latin (10,000+ articles), and artificial languages like Esperanto (10,000+ articles), and languages spoken by small minorities like Pennsilfaanisch-Deitsch (1,000+ articles). Almost every language is represented, and thanks to the underlying database technology for many articles in one language, you find a direct link to the same item in one or more other languages.

One can assume that mere users of such sites outnumber the contributors at large degree, probably in the range of 99:1 or close to that. Exact survey results have not been available at time of writing this book, though.

Wikipedia shows impressively the public use of bidirectional information services. Concerns about incorrectness, errors, and malicious contents are countered by the control of the masses. The same model as for Linux applies, where a large community with many more eyes, specialized knowledge, and experiences monitors and contributes to a reliable instrument coming close to and with regard to agility and speed of change outperforming the classic model of the encyclopedia.

The trustworthiness became so evident that many people today seriously refer to Wikipedia as their source of wisdom. If one does not know something, the first check is Wikipedia instead of opening a printed version of Encyclopedia Britannica or its regional equivalent. This is a strong change that was triggered by IT functionalities on the Internet.

In a company, this example of user contribution can result in an encyclopedia of the company's internal terms and items not found or not allowed outside the premises (or better, outside the internal network). It might also be a repository, as described in Chapter 5, "Leveraging Reusable Assets."

8.2.4 Services for Mashups

Besides its searching functionality, which was Google's first intention when getting on the Internet, their website is a good example of providing services for mashups. Mashups are Web applications that combine data/functionality from more than one source. Allowing any user via the Web to use the services offered within applications on his or her end devices, you have the provision of services for mashups. For example, you can add geographical information to items that have been found by the Google search. As a service for mashups, Google Maps services can be used directly by end users in a very convenient fashion. Any Maps service itself can be combined with other services (for instance, Google's own Find Businesses function), generating higher value to the users. Google exposes the Maps services as remixable services so that there are now a huge number of mashups (programmed combinations of those) using these services.

Transferred to IT and business operations at a company, you can ask your company's IT shop to provide several distinguished services that the end users, your employees, can combine with any other accepted services and applications to create suitable solutions for them. The services that are ready, approved, and accepted by an authority unit within your company can be kept in a pool with appropriate trust marks or certifications issued by the IT shop or a trusted provider.

The end users can then access the services in their mashups that run on their site. Enabling services for mashups and providing appropriate support by your IT shop means that every employee becomes a kind of programmer who shortcuts the traditional way of getting application solutions. For the IT shop, this means a change from a general solution provider to becoming an authority who cares for the infrastructure and the standards and who develops services and approves external services that are ready to be used within your company.

In the sense as earlier described by O'Reilly, concrete applications development becomes more an end-user task, and no longer shows version cycles and release dates. However, there has to be a sufficient number of useful and valuable services available that can be found in the repository and are made available via the enterprise service bus (ESB) infrastructure.

Going a step further, as Google offers a certain set of services from their site, it will cause more service providers to offer software that runs at some place in the network and delivers well-defined results. Over time, we can expect more providers to come to the market so that economically we see the start of a software as a service(SaaS) economy. This means a new software-delivery model where software vendors are developing Web-native software applications (web services) that are independently hosted and operated by application providers to the users. The customers no longer pay any fees for owning the software, but for the use of it.

As soon as Internet service providers begin charging for the use of their services or services of third parties that they are hosting, there is a new market. That new market consists of software vendors who develop and offer services implemented in software and application service providers (or perhaps better, SaaS providers) who make those services available for end users to build their solutions on their ends.

Assuming a market for SaaS has developed, there are new alternatives for companies to choose from. The available services can be used to complement the existing IT, for example if there is a need for support of special tasks that are too expensive to develop a solution for.

This complementing job can be done by specialists at the IT department, or a company can decide to fully rely on a service provider to deliver the services according an agreement. Or depending on the policies, the trustworthiness of the application services providers, and finally the savvy of the employees, the CIO can develop a strategy of allowing (or in certain cases, encouraging) the use of mashups within the enterprise, especially when the advantages outweigh the risks. In fact, as Tim O'Reilly envisions it, this may become the norm for a Web 2.0 company.

8.2.5 User Contribution and User Ratings

YouTube leverages user contribution and user ratings. With YouTube, we see a platform that addresses the human urge to express oneself. Digital cameras enable people to create films at a low cost, and more and more people become their own film directors, editors, and actors.

Not everybody makes it to Hollywood to become a star, but cameras at affordable price points enable every person to star in home movies and publish them via the Internet. Rating systems fuel competition, and the published number of downloads and good ratings are what motivate people to produce and upload more films and better films.

When it comes to inappropriate material, this platform supports a self-controlling system in which each user can remove those films he doesn't want to view. In this way, a democracy is in place here in which everybody can become a star if so elected by one's peers. Groups, subgroups, and discussion forums can be initiated by anyone because everyone determines what goes on the site and what changes. Users keep it dynamic, making other people want to visit the site to see what has changed, what new ideas came up, and what new discussion topics are online among one's family and friends or other social contacts. In this way, advertising is mouth to mouth as well as the traditional, electronic way. Other media takes input from the site and publishes information about these stars, reinforcing the attraction.

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