Sunday, May 01, 2005

Service-Oriented Business Strategy

A service-oriented modelling approach helps us to identify alternative business strategies, involving the creation and deployment of added-value services.
  • Identify value-added business services that can be seen (by customers) as more relevant to the context of use. 
  • Identify value-added business services that are flexible / reusable (by customers) in multiple use-contexts. 
  • Compose value-added business services in an efficient and reliable manner from internal and external capabilities. 
  • Provide a service platform to support customers in composing our business services to solve their problems. 
I am in the process of defining an extended example from the pharmaceutical sector. The first part will now be published by CBDI in May 2005.

Why Pharma?

We selected the pharmaceutical industry for a worked example because it provides a good example of a complex information supply chain. A drug company (in collaboration with a distributed network of research and test) produces a drug, together with lots of information relating to the drug. There are several different categories of information user: the patient who takes the drug, the medical practitioner who prescribes and/or dispenses the drug, the health service or insurer that pays for the drug, and the regulator who monitors the safety of the drug.

Pharma appears to illustrate some general characteristics of complex service networks, so this example should be of relevance to other industry sectors.

Above all, for SOA illustration purposes, pharma has two advantages. Firstly, it isn't the same old boring examples everyone else is using (finance, travel, retail). And secondly, it isn't military.

In the past, drug companies have been able to make substantial profits from an essentially drug-centric process, getting high sales volumes for its blockbuster drugs from a largely undifferentiated mass of patients with a given condition. This business model treated the physician or clinic as pretty much equivalent to a retail outlet, and did not involve any relationship with the end-customer (the drug consumer). But this business model is subject to major challenge from several directions.


We model a business as an open system, whose viability depends on robust and appropriate interactions with a dynamic environment. (This contrasts with the closed system approach adopted by many traditional business modeling methods, whose focus is on producing a complete and coherent account of some internal configuration of processes and services, against a fixed view of the environment.)

We model a service-oriented business as a system of systems. Services here may include tasks automated in software (typically but not necessarily rendered as web services) as well as human tasks.

SOA is not just about decomposition – producing fine-grained services with maximum decoupling. Equally important is to think about composition – how these services can be integrated in many different ways to support a wide variety of demand.

In general terms, there are a number of distinct categories of stakeholder, each performing fairly complex functions in relation to the pharma value chain. A key SOA challenge for a drug company is to provide services to all these different stakeholders in a consistent and coordinated yet flexible way. In order to meet this challenge, we need to produce a series of models, from different stakeholder perspectives, showing how the services can be composed in various contexts of use.

In our view, the essential shift for service-oriented modeling is to view the services, not from the provider's perspective, but from the customer's perspective, and in the customer's context of use.

Strategic Reframe

From the perspective of business strategy, what we are looking at here is a strategic reframe of the pharma business. What is the drug company actually selling, and to whom? How does information and services become an integral component of the overall product offering?

The ultimate source of value for the patient is defined in terms of health. The provision of health to patients is based on the deployment of complex medical knowledge by a physician, and this in turn relies on information about particular drugs and combinations of drugs from the drug company and elsewhere. This essentially defines a value ladder, in which the value of the drugs contributes to the value of the heathcare.

While this kind of strategic reframing is widely discussed, what service-oriented modeling provides is a systematic way of determining and analyzing the strategic options, in terms of the value ladders that can be supported.

Can the drug company solve all the problems of healthcare? Can the physician solve all the problems of healthcare? The answer in both cases is of course NO. There is huge complexity involved, and the design goal for SOA is to define a reasonable separation of concerns between the physician and the drug company, that allows each of them to manage an appropriate part of the complexity.

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