Friday, March 16, 2007

Enterprise IT and Business Processes

How successful is enterprise IT? Very successful, most business people would say; look at the boom in US productivity during the late 1990s, or look at the market capitalisation of the IT industry, or even the massive growth in IT-intensive industries such as financial services.

But to truly answer this question, you’ve got to ask what the goal of enterprise IT is – and measured against this goal, I don’t think enterprise IT is successful yet at all.

There are many definitions of what corporate IT is for, but nearly all of them paraphrase “IT is there to enable the business’ processes”. Only once you’ve understood the business processes, should you apply IT to make them faster, better, and cheaper.

There still isn’t a good way to fully document (in business terms) a process, and quickly and easily convert it into a working application, and back again, no matter what the UML / BPEL folk say.

That’s because, ironically, IT hasn’t yet properly automated its own processes. The most basic IT process is the one that starts with a set of requirements, and ends with a working application. This process is very manual and prone to massive cost, scope and time overruns.

We’re missing the spreadsheet of the 2000s, where business users could go in and create a quick application to support their needs.

Neither of the existing approaches (buy a process off the shelf via SAP or Oracle, or create your own using a BPMS) really does it for me. If you want a competitive advantage, it makes sense to stay clear from SAP; and BPMS are still some way off their end goal.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of years left of incremental improvement before we need a breakthrough. In the meantime, enterprise IT will have to get used to mediocrity.

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