Modularizing your Business and Software Component Design

In this blog, I will talk about modularizing your enterprise from a business and software perspective. We start from the business perspective, where I provide some background how today’s businesses are modularized. Afterwards, we will investigate how we can support the modularized business with software components and how they can be designed. Finally, we will see some software tools enabling component-based design for a modularized business, such as the service component architecture (SCA) or OSGi.

Business perspective

You will find a lot of different definitions of what and how a business can be modularized. Most commonly, business modules are known as business functions, such as controlling, finance, marketing, sales or production. Of course you can view this also on a more fine granular level. Furthermore, we may have several instances of the same module. This is illustrated in the following figure. On the left-hand side the business modules of a single enterprise are shown. On the right-hand side you see the business modules of decentralized organizations. There, the enterprise is split up in several enterprises, one for each region. Business modules are replicated across regions, but adapted to local needs.

businessarchitecture

A module has usually clear interfaces to other modules. For instance, in earlier times you used paper forms to order something from the production department.

One of the most interesting questions is how one should design business modules. Well there is no easy answer to this, but one goal is to reduce complexity between modules. This means there should not be many dependencies between modules, if any. There can be a lot of dependencies within one module. For instance, people work very closely together in the production department, because they share common knowledge and resources, such as machines or financial ones.

On the other side, production and sales have some very different business processes. Obviously, they are still dependent, but this should be done through a clear interface between them. For example, there can be regular feedback from a sales person to the production engineer on what the customer needs.

Clearly, it depends on the economic environment how you define business modules and the organization. However, this environment changes and this means business modules can be retired, new interfaces or completely new business modules be created.

Unfortunately, this is usually not very well documented and communicated in many businesses. Particularly, the conditions why a business has been designed out of a given set of modules and dependencies exists usually only in the head of some people. Additionally, the interfaces between business modules and their purpose are often not obvious. This can mean significant loss of competitive advantages.

Linking Business and IT Perspective: Enterprise Architecture

Business and IT have not necessarily the same goals. This means they need to be aligned, so that they are not conflicting. Hence, you need to map your business modules to your IT components. This process is called Enterprise Architecture Management. During this process the Enterprise Architecture is constantly modified and adapted to the economic environment.

Of course, you cannot map all your business and your whole IT, because this would be too costly. Nevertheless, you need to choose the important parts that you want to map. Additionally, you will need to define governance processes and structures related to this, but this is not part of this blog entry.

One popular, but simple, illustration is an enterprise architecture composed of four architectures:

  • The Business Architecture describes the business functions/modules, their relations within business processes, people, the underlying strategy, business goals and the relevant economic environment.
  • The Information Architecture is about the business data, their relationships to business functions/modules and processes, the people, its value as well as security concerns.
  • The Software Architecture depicts different kind of components according to IT goals, their relations to business data and business functions/modules.
  • The Technology Architecture is about the technology foundation for enabling the other architectures. It describes the basic infrastructure in form of hardware and software components. This includes local environments as well as cloud environments, such as OpenStack, Google Compute or Amazon EC2.

Some people advocate additionally an IT security architecture. I propose to model it not as an additional architecture, but include IT security concerns in each of the aforementioned architectures. This increases the awareness for IT security in your business. Nevertheless, appropriate tools can generate from the models a complete security view over all architectures.

There are many popular tools, such as the ARIS toolset to map your enterprise architecture.

Of course, you cannot only define top-down from business to IT how this architecture should be designed. You need to take into account the IT perspective.

IT perspective

As mentioned, IT and business goals are not necessarily the same. IT focuses on three areas: storing of information (storage), processing of information (computation) and transporting information (network). The goal is to do this in an efficient manner: Only the minimum of information should be stored, processing information should be as fast as possible and transporting information should only consume minimal resources. Clearly, there are constraints ranging from physical laws over business goals to IT Security concerns. For instance, the three key IT Security goals, namely confidentiality, integrity and availability often have negative impact on all three IT goals.

As I have explained before: business modules are mapped to software components and vice versa. One big question here is about the design of software components, i.e. what software functionality (representing business functionality) should be part of one software component and not one of the others. Software components are usually different from the business modules, because they have different design criteria.

In the past, people often used heuristics. E.g. they introduce “data components” and “functional components”. This makes sense, because you should not have 50 different databases, but only the right amount of databases for your purpose (e.g. one for NoSQL, one for SQL and/or probabilistic databases). This reduces the resource needs and avoids inconsistent data. However, there is no general approach how these heuristics should be applied by different enterprise architects. Another problem is that communication patterns (e.g. via message brokers, such as RabbitMQ) are completely left out.

Hence, I think a more scientific or general approach should be taken towards the design of components, because these heuristics do not give you good guidelines for a sustainable architecture. Based on the three IT focus areas, I propose to have software components for storage (e.g. database), computation (e.g. business logic) and network (e.g. message brokers). Once you have identified these components, you need to decide which functionality you should put in which component. One key goal should be to reduce the dependencies between components. The more communication you have, the more dependencies you have between the different functions in components. Evaluating this manually can be costly and error prone. Luckily, some approaches do this for your and they can be integrated with business modeling as well as software component management tools (cf. here an approach that derives the design of software components (managed using the service component architecture (SCA)) from the communication pattern in business processed (modeled using the business process modeling notation (BPMN)).

Another mean for coherent software component design is to have enterprise architects responsible for mapping one part of the business (e.g. controlling) reviewing the software architecture for another part of the business (e.g. marketing). I introduced such a process in an enterprise some time ago. Such an approach ensures that architecture decisions are made consistent across the enterprise architecture and this fosters also learning from other areas.

Finally, a key problem that you need to consider is the lifecycle management of a software component. Similar to the lifecycle of business modules, software components are designed, implemented, deployed and eventually retired. You need tools to appropriately manage software components.

Tools for Managing Software Components

Previously, I elaborated on the requirements for managing software components:

  • Handle interfaces with other components

  • Support the lifecycle of software components

Two known information technologies for managing software components are OSGi and the Service Component Architecture (SCA).

OSGi

OSGi is a framework for managing software components and their dependencies/interfaces to other components. It is developed by the OSGi alliance. It origins from the Java world and is mostly suitable for Java components, although it has limited support for other non-Java platforms. It considers the lifecycle of components by ensuring that all needed components are started when a component is started and by being able to stop components during runtime. Furthermore, other components and their interfaces can be discovered at runtime. However, there is no deployment method for software components part of the standard.

Since Java can run on many different devices, it is available for Android, iOS, embedded devices, personal computers and servers.

Unfortunately, tool support for linking OSGi and business or information architecture is very limited. Furthermore, an automatic generation and deployment of OSGi components from your enterprise architecture does not exist at the moment. This makes it difficult to understand software component and their relations within your enterprise architecture.

Many popular software projects are based on OSGi, such as the Eclipse project.

Service Component Architecture (SCA)

The service component architecture is a specification for describing software components, their interfaces and their dependencies. It is developed by members of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). It does not depend on a specific programming platform, e.g. it supports Java and C++. It supports policies that govern components, a set of components or their communication. However, SCA does not consider the software component lifecycle or how they are deployed exactly.

It is supported by many middleware frameworks, such as TIBCO Active Matrix or Oracle Fusion Middleware.

Similarly to OSGi there is little tool support for linking SCA components and the business or information architecture. However, the SCA specification has a graphical modeling guideline and some recent work describes how they can be linked via business processes. Since OASIS is responsible for other enterprise architecture relevant modeling notations (e.g. BPMN), it can be expected that enterprise architecture tools can be adapted to provide support for linking different parts of the enterprise architecture.

Conclusion

Modularizing your business and designing software component is a difficult task. Not many people understand the whole chain from business to software components. While enterprise architecture and modeling has become a popular topic in research and practice, the whole tool chain from business to software components is not. There have been attempts to introduce model-driven-architecture (MDA), but the supported models were mostly only restricted to the Unified-Modeling-Language, which is not very suitable for business modeling and can be very complex. Additionally it does not take into account the software component lifecycle. Furthermore, the roles of the different stakeholders (e.g. business and IT) using these tools are unclear.

Nevertheless, new approaches based on the business process modeling notation and frameworks for managing software components make me confident that this will change in the near future. Growing IT complexity in terms of communication and virtualization infrastructure will require software support for managing software components. Companies should embrace these new tools to gain competitive advantages in terms of agility and flexibility.

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One thought on “Modularizing your Business and Software Component Design

  1. Pingback: Scenarios for Inter-Cloud Enterprise Architecture | ytd2525

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