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
The services are coupled together in a manner that allows interchange of data and cross-invocation of functionalities, but only when necessary
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 life cycle 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 of Microservices 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.
Role in Transforming Operations
These hard and soft losses can be caught by the jugular by using microservices-based software. It is easy to use and does not burden users with complexity outside their domain.
Users can thus be trained in its use within the capacity of their role and engagement, and the path-of-least-resistance now shifts from doing whatever’s convenient at that instant, to actually performing the relevant task on the software. This minimises information asymmetry and promotes transparency.
Furthermore, since information is exchanged and relayed only when necessary, the possibility of conveying false information is minimal, and reduces potential sources of misunderstanding and conflict.
Since these services operate independently of each other, downtime and maintenance requirements can be serviced or corrected with more ease and in less time. This is vital to operations-heavy industries, as even small outages can cause huge financial losses. Lastly, since these services are lightweight, they can be deployed on the cloud/distributed systems, and interact with a wide variety of physical devices.
Thus, all actors – the customers, warehouse managers, the delivery agents, and their corresponding physical assets – laptops, workstations, smartphones and GPS devices can interact with the software without any extra technical effort on their part.
Role in Improving Customer Satisfaction
From the perspective of the customer, it is a most desirable engagement to have goods transported through an accountable and responsive logistics firm. Such a firm should understand both the financial and psychological value attached by them to their goods. Further, it should be empathetic towards them and seek to actively remedy potential anomalies.
Microservices software allows logistics firms to extend the flow of vital functionalities and information to the customer. These may be bi-directional, from shipment booking and location tracking to establishment of contact with relevant entities and feedback on the services rendered.
The quality of interaction between customer service executives and agitated customers also improves.
Why? It’s simple.
Finding possible lapses becomes easier, and the process of correcting them becomes more actionable.
It allows the customers to become as much a part of the entire ecosystem, as their shipment, the firm transporting it, its employees and processes. This is vital to having a happy and satisfied customer base, which not only seeks the services of the firm, but trusts it with the goods.
The Time for Microservices is Now
Microservices-based software are thus ideally suited in industries such as logistics, and even others that have similar characteristics.
It allows different entities to carry out their roles in the business processes with greater ease, promotes efficient coordination among them, helps lay out a clearer matrix of responsibility and reduces chances of conflict. It enables organisations to accomplish these ideals without requiring any extravagant additional cost or expertise.
Regardless of the size of the firm, replacing existing legacy systems with a suite of lightweight microservices, or taking them up as an entirely new layer might turn some heads, but might also be a turning point.
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