An old dictum states that complex issues can be more easily solved by breaking them down into smaller tasks, writes Claus Jepsen, CTO, Unit4. The same applies for software where we are observing a shift from the old monolithic world to granular microservices. And its not overstating matters to suggest that the speed with which organisations embrace microservices will be a leading indicator of their future success.
The notion of encapsulating business functionality is not new and goes all the way back to SOA, object-oriented programming systems and even COBOL but packaged business capabilities and open APIs mean that companies are enthusiastically pursuing microservices. The reasons are not just because they offer a technically superior alternative but also because they dovetail with the broader needs of business to move faster, digitise wherever possible and deliver compelling user experiences.
The Composable Enterprise
Such is the excitement that Gartner has what it calls the Composable Enterprise in its latest Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies in the Peak of Inflated Expectations section. Why? Essentially there’s a simple formula where smaller services equal more agility for organisations. Here’s Gartner: “As business needs change, organisations must be able to deliver innovation quickly and adapt applications dynamically — reassembling capabilities from inside and outside the enterprise.”
Ultimately, microservices make software easier to operate, integrate and add new features.
They also enable new and improved ways for people to interact with digital systems and these new ways will change the very nature of work. In short, they take us from a world of human beings instructing computers at every turn to one where binary code becomes our assistant and takes away much of the grunt work that occupies our time.
Why Microservices are like Lego Bricks
Microservices are often compared to Lego bricks and the comparison is even better than you might think. Lego reinvented its brand by designing new bricks that were smaller, had more precise uses and could be used flexibly to create new and fun environments. Microservices work by breaking down application elements into individual, specialist components and making them available for assembling with others in loosely coupled environments. They remove the need to shell out to core apps or endure slow processes and therefore make people more productive.
They are central to the future of enterprise software and ERP in particular, which has become a byword for the monolithic. But monolithic software is the past and the future is user-centric where software automates more processes and only asks humans to act where they are needed – to verify, innovate and generally add value, for example.
This decomposing of ERP is crucial for flexibility but also because the way we use enterprise applications is changing. Where once we used PCs and keyboards with monitors that could cope with complex menu structures and lots of user input activity, the move to mobile apps and devices mean we need to be clever about how we design software. Mobile apps are successful when they’re simple and focused and microservices are a perfect fit for this model.
We also need to think generally about being more lightweight and dispensing with anything amorphous and hefty, for example using simple document stores rather than loading heavy databases to support processes. Again, microservices enable this approach and help create a world of highly integrated, pervasive and federated software where commonly linked actions can easily be triggered, such as moving from a calendar appointment to a videoconference call.
Time to Shut Down Silos and Remove Friction
We need to be thinking about shutting down silos and removing friction wherever we see it. In return we will be rewarded by faster innovation and more reliable, slicker software because we are not suffering from the cascading effects of moving large code stacks. We’ll also make software easier to use and develop with more low-code/no-code environments, so we lose our addiction to highly-paid consultants making minor tweaks to code.
Most people in the real world don’t know about microservices but they are central to the future of business. If companies can’t harness them to deliver better user experiences then they will go to the wall as customers walk to companies that have built better mousetraps. From Nokia to Apple and Blockbuster to Netflix those market transitions are brutal and fast so better to address the fundamentals of your digital experience now and tap into the power of microservices.
Editor’s note. Needless to say, not everybody agrees with this view. Here’s Segment’s Alexandra Noonan and Calvin French-Owen in Computer Business Review on their opposite journey! “Microservices vs Monolith: Lessons from the Coalface“