Welcome to the service department

Having endured some expensive and damaging experiences with packaged software, online gift retailer I Want One Of Those (IWOOT) is now a fearless adopter of open source applications and infrastructure.  For Angus Gow, IWOOT’s head of development and strategy, the open source model allows the company to develop unique and innovative software that brings competitive advantage, and doesn’t constrain it to ‘one-size-fits-all’ prepackaged business processes.

But equally beneficial to the company’s ability to build software that empowers the business has been its use of service-oriented architecture (SOA). Using open source SOA components, the company has an application infrastructure comprising 3,000 different web services.  

The design of these services is informed by the structure of business processes; each service should represent a concept that makes sense to a business user, Gow told the audience at Information Age’s recent Business Applications & Infrastructure 2009 conference. “That allows us to give the users the applications they want,” he explained.

The combination of an application architecture built around business concepts with open web standards has granted the business far greater autonomy over IT projects. “When we integrated with [consumer review site] Bazaarvoice, the project was lead by one of our creative teams,” explained Gow.

In fact, its technology choices have reshaped the business. Incredibly, IWOOT has merged two departments that for most organisations represent chalk and cheese: systems development and marketing. For an online retailer this makes business sense; new web functionality means new routes to market. But the fact that this unusual arrangement was even plausible, let alone possible, is testament to the alignment between business and IT at IWOOT.

Gow believes that SOA can have a similar influence at all organisations. “This spells the end for the information technology department” with its focus on providing information for the business, he said. Instead, a company’s technology experts will become the “service technology department”, focused on helping the business execute business processes.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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