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Cloud Enablement & Operations

Automation & Orchestration Part 1: What's In A Name? That Which We Call a "Service"…

The phrases “service,” “abstraction,” & “automation & orchestration” are used a lot these days. Over the course of the next few blogs, I am going to describe what I think each phrase means and in the final blog I will describe how they all tie in together.

Let’s look at “service.” To me, when you trim off all the fat that word means, “Something (from whom) that provides a benefit to something (to whom).” The first thing that comes to mind when I think of who provides me a service is a bartender. I like wine. They have wine behind the bar. I will pay them the price of a glass + 20% for them to fill that glass & move it from behind the bar to in front of me. It’s all about services these days. Software-as-a-Service, Infrastructure-as-a-Service, and Platform-as-a-Service. Professional services. Service level agreement. No shirts, no shoes, no service.

Within a company, there are many people working together to deliver a service. Some to external people & some to internal people. I want to examine an internal service because those tend to be much more loosely defined & documented. If a company sells an external service to a customer, chances are that service is very well defined b/c that company needs to describe in very clear terms to the customer exactly what they are getting when the customer shells out money. If that service changes, careful consideration needs to be paid to what ways that service can add more benefit (i.e., make the company more money) and in what ways parts of that service will change or be removed. Think about how many “Terms of Service & Conditions” pamphlets you get from a credit card company and how many pages each one is.

It can take many, many hours as a consultant in order to understand a service as it exists in a company today. Typically, the “something” that provides a benefit are the many people who work together to deliver that service. In order to define the service and its scope, you need to break it down into manageable pieces…let’s call them “tasks.” And those tasks can be complex so you can break those down into “steps.” You will find that each task, with its one or more steps, which is part of a service, is usually performed by the same person over and over again. Or, if the task is performed a lot (many times per day) then that task can usually be executed by a member of a team and not just a single person. Having the capability internally for more than one person to perform a task also protects the company from when Bob in accounting takes a sick day or when Bob in accounting takes home a pink slip. I’ll throw in a teaser for when I cover automation and orchestration…it would be ideal that not only can Bob do a task, but a computer as well (automation). That also may play into Bob getting a pink slip…but, again, more on that later. For now Bob doesn’t need to update his resume.

A lot of companies have not documented many, if any, of the internal services they deliver. I’m sure there is someone who knows the service from soup to nuts, but it’s likely they don’t know how (can’t) to do every task—or—may not have the authority/permission (shouldn’t) to do the task. Determining who in a company performs what task(s) can be a big undertaking in and of itself. And then, once you find Bob (sorry to pick on you Bob), it takes a lot of time for him to describe all the steps he does to complete a task. And once you put it on paper & show Bob, he remembers that he missed a step. And once you’ve pieced it all together and Bob says, “Yup, that about covers it,” you ask Bob what happens when something goes wrong and he looks at you and says, “Oh man, where do I begin?”

That last part is key. When things go well I call it the “Happy Day Scenario.” But things don’t always go well (ask the Yankees after the 2004 season) and just as, if not more, important in understanding a service is to know what to do when the Bob hits the fan. This part is almost never documented. Documentation is boring to lots of people and it’s hard enough for people to capture what the service *should* do let alone what it *could* do if something goes awry. So it’s a challenge to get people to recall and also predict what could go wrong. Documenting and regurgitating the steps of a business service “back” to the company is a big undertaking and very valuable to that company. Without knowing what Bob does today, it’s extremely hard to tell him how he can do it better.