The Resource Oriented Enterprise

This is the start of getting a bunch of ideas about how web technologies are going to change the way business works and enterprise software is built. I have been meaning to start writing this up for a while. Here is an initial overview, somewhere to start… Some of these ideas are floating around elsewhere it seems, from web practitioners working in the enterprise, but there is surprisingly little written up so far.

I went to a meeting a while back with a company starting to move to a web service based, internal API based architecture, and there was a minute where the CTO said (more or less) “does anyone know of any let or hindrance to this being a SOAP API?”. Like those moments at weddings, no one spoke out. But I do object. SOAP is not the backbone of a happy architecture, but we do not have the strength to say no right now.

So here is the beginning of the shout out. The enterprise architecture needs to be a resource oriented architecture (ROA) not a service oriented architecture (SOA). The enterprise needs to move from SOAP to REST.

Web developers know this. When given the choice, 9 out of 20 cats prefer to use REST. It is more productive. It does not involve programs to generate huge chunks of useless code. It involves hypertext (HATEOS) not opaque documents that are mappings of database schemas.

What are the resources in the enterprise? Start with customers. A CRM system is a clear example of something that needs to be modeled as resources. You need API calls that can find products a customer has bought, support tickets, all the core data that you would need to build customer service portals, internal support applications. What is your customer API?

Building this framework can be incremental. You need either tools that already provide REST APIs, which is becoming easier, or a web application development framework. This is the convergence point between application frameworks and web content management. The big issues are the domination of legacy applications with bolt on APIs that may have moved from SQL to CORBA to SOAP over the years. You can however build a REST API over at least parts of these applications to open them up into the enterprise.

OK thats the beginning. Apart from cheaper application development where is the real value?

Resources are the first part of the REST architecture, and resources are much easier to work with than services, as they share uniform semantics, and they are addressable, two keys to making application design simple. The big bit though is the (harder to understand) HATEOS, Hypertext as the Engine of Application State. What this involves is moving the vague and very expensive field of business logic from code (often code that is not even owned or understood by the enterprise, as it has been embodied into code written into systems from suppliers) into hypertext documents.

A concrete example might help here, based on another recent consulting example. A professional body has a set of different membership levels, exams, rules, CPD requirements and so on. These are resources, described states, and hypertext links of state transitions. This is the core of the business logic of the organization, embodied in documents. It can be used to build the membership application, as it describes for example the actions open to a member at the present time, as well as providing potentially a browsable structure, as well as a formal structure that can be used to ask questions about membership (what are the routes to becoming X, for example).

You can view this as a move of business logic to a declarative rather than imperative form. Things do not have to be stored in documents in the underlying storage, although the interface is document and hypertext based. Hypertext makes things human browsable, and declarative makes them computer browsable, and HATEOS makes them discoverable. Business logic becomes content rather than data, rather than there being tables of parameters that the business logic black box feeds off, the states themselves become resources that can be discovered, addressed, and reasoned with.

As states become resources in a REST model, because of the statelessness of web applications, both states and state transitions become first class objects. Constructing ad-hoc queries about state changes should become easy (what percentage of customers renew their contracts, say). The first class objects need to be the ones that are meaningful for the business.

There is more to this, it needs expanding. Perhaps we need a manifesto. The software architecture of the web is going to make huge changes to the architecture of other realms, more than most people realize it seems. It is inevitable as things get re-architected around the web that more areas will be affected; also there are the benefits of scalability and reliability that are being created for the web. If anyone has any other business case references for REST please post in comments.

(Image from this software architecture overview).

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  1. [...] The Resource Oriented Enterprise – Technology of Content RT @dnene, @justincormack new blogpost, the resource oriented enterprise #REST #ROA [from [...]

  2. [...] is a followup to my earlier post on the resource oriented enterprise, I had some good feedback much from the REST mailing list which I summarize here. As I said there [...]

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  1. It is a great article. I personally feel that ROA is an excellent way to go ahead towards the realization of semantic model of the web. It makes our applications machine understandeable along with simplyfying human access to these resources as well.

    the article is too gud & informative. Keep it up. Will be following your space.

    Posted August 26, 2009 at 21:35 | Permalink
  2. Peter

    I think you’re on the right track. There are clearly many good technical reasons for using REST-style architecture (or ROA). On the business side, ROA enables business flexibility. I think you stated the part about business logic well: “Business logic becomes content rather than data.” This implies that business logic can become decoupled and changes to business logic can be made more easilly. So, business solution deployment can happen more quickly and the business can be more flexible.

    Posted September 3, 2009 at 05:53 | Permalink

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