When I first moved from working on large, centralised ERP software to decentralised, cloud-based microservices, it was a task getting attuned to the difference in expected development time. Suddenly, weeks were hours, months were days and years were months.
The new expected timelines were a lot more challenging and fun, and so was getting introduced to a new and upcoming architectural style for computer software.
Microservice architecture presents a paradigmatic shift to the way software interacts with organisational processes, one which can possibly transform industrial ecosystems, if taken up by stakeholders with method and fervour.
What are microservices?
The Microservice architectural style is based upon dividing the industrial or organisational ecosystem into interconnected but disparate functions or processes, and then having multiple services which perform functionalities specific to their process, and interact together only when necessary.
Thus, these services operate independently of each other for the most part, though exchange information and invoke functionalities in other services across the ecosystem when the processes so desire.
For example, in a small ecosystem typical of the logistics industry, the delivery recipient, the delivery agent and the warehouse manager all use different services to process and track a shipment:
- Information about the shipment moves from the operations manager to the delivery agent once the shipment is assigned to a particular delivery agent
- Delivery agent captures proof of delivery and marks the shipment as delivered. The customer can then fill feedback for the service rendered by the delivery agent
- The feedback can be accessed and analysed by the operations manager to detect and analyse possible anomalies and improve customer satisfaction
Microservices are flexible, efficient and require less effort to implement and maintain as compared to traditional software. As against the latter, the former don’t rely on centralisation of functionalities and subsequent access control.
How are microservices designed?
Purity in functionalities-: Functionalities involved in a particular process flow are isolated in a service that is intended for it
Independence of a service-: These isolated functionalities are performed solely by the service they are isolated in, and no service depends on the other for the sake of this
Loose coupling-: The services are coupled together in a manner that allows interchange of data and cross-invocation of functionalities, but only when necessary
Decentralisation:- To have no centralised, master-service that holds capabilities across the entire range of microservices
Chaining, but no hierarchy
To accomplish a complex business scenario, functionalities across different microservices can be chained, but there is no hierarchy among the services to this effect
Independent Development, Deployment and Maintenance
The software development lifecycle of one microservice should not affect that of the other
Use of software with this architectural design can benefit organisations and industries that have a complex and disparate set of actors and processes in their ecosystem.
The logistics industry is one such industry, that can be impacted positively and potentially transformed by proactive implementation of such software.
Transformative potential in logistics industry
The logistics industry has organisations having operations in far-flung areas and across time zones. They engage with both business and retail customers, and their employees are engaged in roles requiring varied capabilities and expertise.
By virtue of enabling transportation of physical goods, having an efficient, transparent and robust set of players in the logistics industry is essential to the economic growth of any nation, and to global trade.
In an operations heavy environment such as that in the logistics industry, where financial cost and time taken are critical variables, such software holds transformative potential. In such an ecosystem, which is always preoccupied with executing the processes fast, there is a tendency to take the path-of-least-resistance when managing information and keeping records. This often gives rise to an adhocism of sorts, and ultimately ends up increasing the cost and time involved.
Additionally, this increases the probability of loss of shipments — which causes loss of money and time to the customers, and is thus a negative influence on the organisation’s relationship with its customers.
The very variables that need to be improved upon end up worsening. Further, no entity can be clearly held accountable and none of the losses can be remedied. This scenario is just as unwelcome as it sounds and is quite often a situation most parties in the logistics space find themselves in.
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