Back-Office Applications versus Digital Collaboration

You will have noticed by now that I have retracted from the rather useless BPM versus ACM discussion. One reason is that as I predicted many years ago, the approach used in ACM has been assimilated by the big BPM vendors. Not necessarily in true function but for certain in their marketing approach and material. Additionally I find that the people responsible for process management in most businesses are just thinking of processes in terms of controlling work and not in terms of empowering people to achieve process goals, which is a rather short-sighted approach.

As pointed out so many times that I truly feel like a broken record, it is not the predefined process that insures outcome but a well-defined goal that people pursue. I yet have to see goals being implemented in process management that are no more than milestone definitions.

At our ISIS Papyrus Open House we had great discussions at the management circle on this subject. It became quite clear that large organizations are simply not capable in their current structure and culture to take a different view of processes. Unless the large consulting companies will start to recommend to them to do this differently they will continue to work the outdated way. Unfortunately both the consulting companies and the BPM vendors would have to speak up against their own business to make that happen. So it won’t. It therefore also makes not much sense to try and sell such an approach to large businesses. I have to admit that despite my opposing stance to the purely sales-driven concept, what can be sold are pre-packaged applications that some call ‚Smart Process Apps’ as they bypass some of the immense effort imposed by a BPM bureaucracy. But those apps are back-office focused and lack the crucial ability for goal-driven, digital collaboration with customers and partners. These apps represent additional silos and typically struggle with the dynamics of integrating with content and communications abilities as that would break their rigid processes.

The 'Digital' Collaboration Contract

The ‘Digital’ Collaboration Contract

In the meantime outside the business and IT illusions of the large enterprises the world has changed and continues to change. The change imposed by those forces won’t be subtle nor elegant as promised by the consulting firms. It will be brutal and disruptive as the businesses that can’t adjust will disappear one way or the other. While the principles of Uber or Airbnb in a much broader range of new markets can’t be generalized they show that the infrastructure for a different kind of business-to-employee-to-customer relationship does already exist. It is utterly unused by the large corporations who fail to see the writing on the wall.

Karl Marx had proposed that the world would be divided into people who owned the means of production – the idle rich shareholders – and people who worked for them. Those large businesses still operate that way. Following the Industrial Revolution, having a good job meant it was unionized and secure, with company benefits, such as health-care insurance, vacations and retirement pensions. Both governments and unions are still doing their part to reduce the agility of businesses with labour laws that are supposed to protect employees from being laid off. In effect, those laws are stopping companies from hiring more people. Automation and outsourcing are the consequences with the disappearance of job security.

Ronald Coase, the British economist and 1991 Nobel Prize recipient in economics published in 1937 ‘The Nature of the Firm.‘ He proposed that a firm should be able to find the cheapest, most productive goods and services by contracting them out in an efficient, open marketplace. The realities of employment complexities however caused the creation of ever larger companies that were supposed to dominate and control their market space at all costs. All that growth generally leads to organizations becoming bureaucratic, with a focus on planning, efficiency and costs, destroying the ability to quickly embrace new ideas and technologies when market conditions change.

Advances in information and communication technologies are having a huge impact but not the one we would initially expect. Economies of scale and network effects are leading to organizational consolidation and a winner-take-all world where still only the largest survive. Fragmentation and consolidation will co-exist with each other to a greater or lesser extent across different companies and ecosystems. Apple has found the ideal combination of continuous customer-focused creativity and its amazing ability to manage a huge world-wide supply chain.

How is that possible? It won’t happen by hiring a consulting firm or implementing BPM. Just as language shapes our brain’s ability to think, the use of information technology shapes our behavior as customers and the ability of businesses as suppliers. The most valuable and fastest growing companies are those that use technology to satisfy their customers needs in new and visionary ways. It used to be heresy and unimaginable to IT architects that customers would be allowed to directly access a banking system. Today it is the gold standard by which a bank’s customer service is judged.

It is further no longer possible to ignore that the four layers of customer interaction, business interaction and content, compliance and policy rules, and data transactions have to converge. Back-Office Applications will continue to enforce a customer disconnect. Mobile and browser front-ends must connect to a homogeneous digital collaboration infrastructure that does not restrict but empowers company staff to service in a flexible but still compliant manner.

But clearly it will not be open and unmanaged interaction like on Facebook. Those interactions will have to be private and secure and driven through the goal definitions of a customer service contract. It is the applications that enable this kind of digital collaboration with customers that will make or break a business these days regardless of its size. Digital Collaboration provides the only true real-time ability of a business to interact with its customers and not an illusionary real-time view of old Big-Data analytics and predictions. What nonsense!

It is the executive who decides how technology will reshape the way a business works and he needs to fulfill his vision in a much shorter time than typical software development projects, regardless if in-house or outsourced can deliver.

2 Comments on “Back-Office Applications versus Digital Collaboration

  1. RE: “It is the executive who decides how technology will reshape the way a business works and he needs to fulfill his vision in a much shorter time than typical software development projects, regardless if in-house or outsourced can deliver.”

    Herein lies the dilemma…

    Computer Science… “The Science” is about an iterative chase for perfections. A correct program does what it should 100% of the time… this is expensive and time consuming.

    Computer Science – “The Business of IT for sale”… is about time to market, features, revenue and profit, etc… It’s about creating product as cheaply and quickly as possible, and selling as much of it as possible for the highest markup possible.

    “Never the ‘twain shall meet”… LOL!

    There have been many attempts to make IT “as agile as business” etc. and maybe “someday” it will get there. But, as you point out… business demands the vision be fulfilled faster than typical development projects can deliver.

    Ultimately, it takes more time and money to do IT correctly, than any wants to admit or explain to Sr, Business management about.

    Not to mention the cultural difference.

    Think back to the heyday of mainframes… Comp Sci. people spoke “IEB this, IEF that”… MBA’s didn’t want to here “that crap”… They *hate* that crap… LOL!

    In the end perfection often costs, and reliability often means overbuilding.

    That’s at direct odds with “lowest cost to make, highest price to sell, in shortest timeframe possible”.

    One current approach seems to be processes designed to make day-to-day IT activities fit a “production line model”… problem is…. to get there will actually *increase* resource requirements until it is done.

    You need one staff to “keep the wheels on”… and another to analyze, re-design and rebuild.

    Unfortunately, the data centers of today grew into place and all are largely customized to their businesses at some point in time…

    The mass support, production line model begs for commonality, and strict process…. but that assumes clear and unchanging outputs (like a “car” or “pager”)… but businesses want to be agile…

    So in the end the current data centers are not production lines… and are not really engineered to be… and as anyone who’s worked in a real production line (I have)… production lines are anything but “agile”.

    So to get there from here seems to my eyes, to be inescapably expensive.

    Yet we are in an age where yet more profit in less time is deemed necessary, and at least some markets are mature or shrinking… so that means cost cuts… not additional expenditures.

    So, not an easy problem to solve.

    Like

    • Frank, thanks for the comment. You describe the problem well especially in relationship to mainframes or mainframe like applications. Yes, there are those production-like applications and they are needed too to ensure proper business transactions. But there is another part to this business transaction and it does and will involve people one way or the other. That part needs the agility and it wont be achieved with production-like processes. It needs digital collaboration. Both are necessary and there is no need to to make one like the other.

      That is the lack of understanding that IT and business struggle with.

      Like

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