Friday, April 28, 2006

Bathroom Interoperability

There is an urban myth that Americans in Europe always complain about the showers and the plumbing. My fellow Brit Phil Wainewright, currently on tour around the US West Coast, has just posted a complaint about Hotel Sink Stoppers on his SaaS blog.

Phil says this is Off-Topic. But I thought his travails with the sink stoppers were actually (there's a British word for you) actually rather relevant to SOA and SaaS.

Firstly, Phil's complaint involves an escalation of service failure. The sink stoppers fail. And as a result, the sink fails to provide the service that Phil requires - a sinkful of hot water. Which means that his preferred method of shaving fails.

What kind of failure is this? There are three possibilities.

Firstly, it could be an design failure (error of execution). The sink stopper doesn't do what it was supposed to do, period.

Secondly, it could be an architectural failure (error of planning). The sink stopper itself is fine, it just doesn't work very well in combination with this particular sink.

Thirdly, it could be a strategic failure (error of intention). The sink stopper wasn't ever intended to hold water, merely to stop your wedding ring going down the pipes.

Or maybe it isn't a failure at all - merely a clever security device to stop people leaving the taps on and flooding the room downstairs.

From the supply-side perspective (namely the hotel), Phil's inability to shave the way he likes probably ranks lower in the hotel's scheme of things than Phil's inability to cause a flood. So even if it were aware of the problem, the hotel would probably choose to degrade the quality of service experienced by Phil, rather than incur the theoretical risk of a complete service outage elsewhere.

Ultimately, this is an example of asymmetric demand. The hotel simply doesn't recognize Phil's service requirement - there is a value deficit.

Pass the SOAP.

[Update]
See further comments by Vinnie M with reply from Phil W.

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