Reimagine microservices: flexible building blocks for a digital future

With the emergence of microservices as a new architectural style for information technologies, there’s a very real possibility that if an organization gets it right at the start, it may never need to overhaul its entire system ever again. It's time to start imagining a very different digital future!

It's time to reinvent the wheel

Businesses today are experiencing multidimensional challenges to survive in the digital economy. Ever-increasing customer expectations and fierce, fast-paced competition are shaking up the business environment. Emerging new technologies are playing a disrupting role in uprooting traditional business models – which are no longer valid and have become almost obsolete.

Businesses have reached an inflection point and are now forced to add new digital capabilities and reorganize information technologies if they wish to keep up in the digital race. Everyone is doing their best to keep up with the pace of change. However, what can be a differentiator is an organization’s ability to leverage a microservices architecture style to achieve their digital aspirations.

A microservices transformation isn’t just an architecture evolution, but a strategic imperative for your business.

In 2019, the full potential of benefits that microservices can bring to businesses is still overlooked and underexploited. Despite that 71 percent of businesses claim that API's are important to their business, only one in four (23 percent) companies has actually taken the step of implementing a microservices-based infrastructure. A microservices transformation isn’t just an architecture evolution, but a strategic imperative for your business. Keep in mind that the microservices architecture market is expected to grow at about USD 33 billion by 2023.

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Redefining the enterprise architecture with microservices at the core is the first step to enable success in the longer term and execute an organization’s digital strategy, but won’t deliver groundbreaking results overnight. Later, such an architecture can be scaled to become more impactful. Overall, microservices architecture is not just an opportunity, but also a reason for organizations to reinvent the wheel: it is necessary for success in the changing ecosystem, today and tomorrow.

First things first - get your microservice basics right

To succeed in the digital economy an organization must have a mature operational backbone that will serve as the foundation for strategic development. MIT defines the operational backbone as the set of business and technology capabilities that ensure the efficiency, scalability, reliability, quality, and predictability of core operations.

It’s important to understand that the scope of this ‘backbone’ spans across the whole enterprise – business processes, enterprise information and technology should chime in melody to achieve a state of harmony.

Not building this backbone or ignoring this key concept and moving forward with a tactical mindset will only take organizations so far.

And it’s vital for senior leaders of organizations (especially those already undergoing digital transformation) to realize that they must first aggressively pursue building a strong operational backbone – this will enable IT capabilities to be extended in the future, flexibly and sustainably, enabling businesses to remain relevant in the digital economy. Not building this backbone or ignoring this key concept and moving forward with a tactical mindset will only take organizations so far.

Reimagine microservices - Moving forward - by Accenture

As an example, in 2008 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) undertook a major digital transformation program. The goal was to modernize production operations and fundamentally change how the BBC both manages data and provides content to audiences, at the same time as reducing costs. However, senior leadership failed to update business practices in tandem with IT system development – with serious consequences. 

In 2013, BBC director general Lord Tony Hall announced that DMI was to be shut down, writing off £98.3 million in unusable technology assets. Chief technology officer John Linwood lost his job the following year. There are other examples where companies have not succeeded, and the common pattern appearing suggests that the reason for failure is the inability to perform core operations efficiently.

One-size-fits-all simply does not hold true anymore. 

So, it’s important to understand that having a strong foundation is fundamental to exploit digital technologies, and to meet the digital ambitions of the company. With a sound foundation in place, a microservice-based architecture will efficiently deliver the maximum benefits to the organization. Organizations should invest in the unique capabilities offered by this mature technology, and capitalize on that to achieve their business goals.

Renovate your enterprise architecture for a winning digital value chain

Microservices adoption should be considered within the broader scheme of things - strategy and enterprise-wide - not only within the operational frame of IT. Microservices is still often conflated with software development and APIs, with no consideration of their applicability to the wider business scope. 

Now that microservices has completed its hype cycle, organizations should envision how to take full advantage of microservices to reap maximum benefits. Business and IT leaders must include this topic in the strategic agenda and consider elevating the role of microservices within the organization. Just like every organization has the cloud strategy in its agenda, a microservices strategy might well be this way in the future.

An architecture paradigm like microservices offers capabilities that can be utilized and exploited to deliver business value at scale, in areas that go far beyond IT. We are seeing more and more in the industry that microservices is playing an increasingly pivotal role in digital value delivery. 

Reimagine microservices - Old and new microservices architectures - by Accenture

A 2018 survey on the global microservices trend revealed that 'almost all (98 percent) expect microservices to become their default architecture, and the majority (86 percent) expect that to happen within the next five years'. What's more, by 2022 90 percent of all apps will feature microservices architectures that improve the ability to design, debug, update, and leverage third-party code.

By 2022, 90 percent of all apps will feature microservices architectures that improve the ability to design, debug, update, and leverage third-party code, IDC found.

IT systems and data are still the cornerstones of digital value propositions. However, architectural decisions and technology choices will differentiate some organizations from the rest. The days are gone when companies could play around with an ERP and a CRM and build a few satellite systems. One-size-fits-all simply does not hold true anymore

Today, custom and modular applications are critical for businesses to deliver value to their customers. More importantly, these applications should be agile enough to adapt instantly as paired systems and market demands change around them. 

The right composition of custom and best-of-breed solutions, together with the right level of integration - that is the key to success. This is where organizations need to find a balance by innovatively rethinking the building blocks that foster business capabilities and deliver real results.

Unleash microservices full potential to accelerate your digital ambitions

With microservice architectural style repositioned as a pivotal lever for digital strategy, the challenge is to capitalize on this helpful position, and unleash the full potential of benefits it holds for the whole organization. To this end, we recommend that adoption and exploitation of microservices should be approached from a predominantly enterprise architecture standpoint, with business and IT strategy leadership as primary stakeholders, and with a transformative-yet-pragmatic mindset.

In line with principles recommended by practices and digital business transformation frameworks like THRIVE, Enterprise Architects should ensure microservices exploitation happens as part of a bigger vision which cohesively spans more enterprise-wide concerns, holistically and near-systematically. They should tap into opportunities to get more value by applying the microservices style in a more anticipative and proactive way.

Taking an enterprise architecture standpoint for end-to-end enterprise coverage of business capabilities transformation, coupled to a primarily microservices-based smart enablement of these capabilities, should naturally secure or at least strongly contribute to the enforcement of enterprise-wide value drive and holistic principles. By doing so, you would be unleashing the full potential that microservices yield to accelerate your digital ambitions.

Start thinking with microservices

Most organizations kick start their digital journey without assessing the state of the existing core system and its readiness for transformation. When companies enter an age of digital transformation following this approach, the transformation is cumbersome, delivers short-lived value and, more often than not, becomes unsustainable. 

Get more value by applying the microservices style in a more anticipative and proactive way.

It is recommended to start with an evaluation of the organizational enterprise architecture. Once the enterprise architecture has been evaluated and individual parts have been integrated into a holistic, well-oiled system across the whole organization, that solid core will provide the foundation needed - and then the full benefits of microservices can be reaped. 

Authors: Avijit Das Derrulex Djoukwai