Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Handling Uncertainty

Eighth post in seven days. As regular readers will know, I don't always post this often. But I've got lots of material to share after attending the SPARK workshop, which I hope you find useful and/or thought-provoking.

One of the most interesting discussions at the SPARK workshop was about business strategy for SOA, with some great contributions from Steve Davis of Disney Studios. The first insight was on handling uncertainty, using Identity Management as an example.

Handling Uncertainty

Who is going to dominate the identity space? There are several plausible scenarios.
  • Credit card companies (Visa)
  • Government agencies (national ID cards)
  • Telecoms companies
  • No single dominant position
So what is the appropriate strategic response to this uncertainty?
  1. Do nothing until the situation resolves itself.
  2. Pick a winning horse. Maybe try to influence the outcome.
  3. Develop a strategy that is independent of the outcome.
SOA provides useful support for the third approach. If identity is a significant source of uncertainty (which it is), then abstract away from any identity-related assumptions. Strip all identity from the applications, and prevent developers creating any local identity processing. Establish a standard set of identity-related services, separate from the basic applications. We may then be able to define two different business cases for building and using these shared services.
  1. Tactical efficiency. Economics of scale / scope.
  2. Strategic flexibility. Ability to accommodate any of the possible scenarios.
Steve argued that four scenarios was a good number - sufficient to provide reasonable variety, while small enough to be meaningful to management.

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