We are entering the era of the “Composable Enterprise Model” (CEM), where IT systems and data can be composed into new, business-facing offerings with relative ease. In some ways, CEM represents a pragmatic realization of the “loose coupling” ideal that has fueled recent architectural trends. CEM is a multi-faceted gem, a collection of best practices and technologies combined with the real world implementation of open standards. IT succeeds by abstracting the layers of infrastructure, applications and data into common services that can be dynamically accessed. Infrastructure turns into a platform. Core business operations turn into services that are used by other applications. Applications and data are abstracted from physical infrastructure using platform-as-a-service (PaaS).
The CEM Conundrum
Appealing as it seems, CEM presents a conundrum. Though CEM is a technological construct, if it’s executed correctly, it will appear to be 100% business-oriented. The technology is all under the hood, away from view of many key players in a CEM project. With CEM, when the CEO asks, “Can consumers buy our product on smartphones this Christmas?” IT’s answer is simply “Yes”. Yet, at the same time, CEM is of course all about technology. Resolving this conundrum requires taking two related steps: First, we need to own CEM’s technological complexity if we hope to make it work. Then, we need to address aspects of the organizational culture that can hold back the business value that CEM offers.
Owning the Technological Complexity of CEM
Making CEM look easy to business users involves mastering a collection of technologies. The good news is that most CEM-enabling technologies are present or easily attainable for the enterprise. Virtualization and enterprise cloud computing are accessible and secure today. Advances in service-orientation, such as RESTful APIs, make it possible to split disparate systems into discrete software elements that can be easily composed into wholly new applications. In some ways, CEM renders standards irrelevant. Infrastructure and service patterns have become the new standards that enable common use cases.
New agile development methodologies, which enable the fast-tracking of business critical projects, are now commonplace. By building core services such as ‘finance’ or ‘commerce’, developers can build applications in robust agile languages such as Node.js and Ruby on Rails. These drive faster development as the organization is no longer stuck on a single language and bottlenecked by the developer ecosystem for that language.
PaaS is the development “baseline” that brings out CEM’s inherent agility. With PaaS, composing business elements happens through access to powerful, granular service libraries – in effect, exposing “bite-size” snippets of business data and windows into processes that can be easily built into applications.
Changing the Culture
CEM success relies on changing perceptions about IT and business. Simply, IT people have to stop thinking of themselves as IT people. Business people have to stop thinking of them as IT people as well. It’s like that Seinfeld joke which describes listening to a pilot explain how he’s going to fly at 20,000 feet, past Pittsburgh, then to Chicago, and so forth, while Seinfeld’s just thinking, “Just do whatever the h**l you got to do. I don’t know. End up where it says on the ticket.” IT no longer has to share its inner workings and it can no longer be out on the margin of the business. Organizations don’t like to change, of course, so it can be best to start by getting the business to buy into a baseline set of capabilities that can be accessed by developers within the enterprise. While running lean, an investment in PaaS, data and service libraries brings about an internal SDK for key business systems. This gives developers the flexibility to work on any number of projects with the kind of rapid business implementation that internal business clients crave.
Jared Wray, Tier 3 founder and CTO, will present his thoughts on using Platform as a Service in the Composable Enterprise at this year’s Cloud Connect Chicago, Oct. 21-23, 2013. Register for Cloud Connect and save up to $500 on Conference Passes or redeem a Free Expo Pass with Early Bird Pricing.