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The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

Neglected Processes That Yearn for Automation

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A big theme of this coming Thursday's live webinar, The Office in the Clouds, which I'm presenting alongside Jon Pyke of Cordys, is those aspects of office routine that have been ignored by computing. They're either too variable or too mundane to have been swept up in earlier waves of software automation — tasks such as filling in an expenses claim or a quarterly employee review, comparing and analyzing a few sets of figures culled from separate applications, or co-ordinating information within a distributed team.

Cloud computing promises both lowered cost and increased adaptability, suggesting that information workers can at last eradicate these inefficiency sinks that are scattered throughout their working day. But is it going to be as easy or as simple as that?

A month ago, I posed the question here on this blog, Enterprise Mashups - Good or Bad?. Automating those neglected processes seems to depend on delegating more freedom to business users to create their own process automation, by empowering them to build and modify data mashups and process flows for themselves. The worry from a corporate IT and governance perspective is that they may not have the necessary skills and knowledge to do so without causing unintended consequences.

Several commenters posted their views, on both sides of the debate.

"The business users are the ones closest to the problem, ergo they will likely devise a solution that best suits their needs," wrote 'Summer', from Serena Software, adding that it was still important to build in IT oversight and governance.

David French agreed, stating, "business units are closest to the need and exploring their process requirements." He suggested an iterative approach to process improvement "has a better chance of cycling through improvements than the 'traditional' IT approach of analysing to death before there is anything to see."

But Renee Cheary pointed out that "the benefits of the individual mashing data for personal usage is limited to that of the individual's ability, regardless of the fancy IT tools provided." While some power users might be able to produce useful mashups, others needed to work within tightly pre-defined parameters.

Before everyone runs off and locks down all user access to the new generation of mashup tools and cloud services, bear one warning in mind. Business users have still got to work around these neglected processes, and you might be better off giving them the tools, with oversight, than leaving them to their own devices, unsupervised.

I hope you'll be able to join us for Thursday's webinar (which is sponsored by Cordys), when Jon and I will talk about the pressures to bring automation to these neglected processes, and examine how enterprises can harness the cloud to help.


Interesting points Phil. When we developed Encanvas specifically for situational applications in 2003 we found the level of appreciation of the importance of 'the long tail' of applications was very low. It still is. What we've not seen yet is a transformation in the way organizations are structured to envelope skills and resources beyond their enterprise. When organizations behave more like jazz bands rather than orchestras the need for situational networks of people to come together(specifically for the purpose of producing a tangible outcomes), this change is likely to drive demand for new ways of supporting these loosely coupled collaborative communities. Until this happens we expect enthusiasm for Enterprise Mashups will remain low. There is now at least a top 10 of enterprise mashup vendors establishing itself - so the technology to enable this change is clearly maturing fast.

Wildly flexible Mashups don't seem to be desired, or possibly sensible, to achieve standardized output. I think it's going to stay this way, where consumer demand, drives low cost, which drives standarization. At least for core processes, seems that creating standarized mashups ( ie administrative tools) will reign. The creative process may however gain more benefit from flexible mashups. Albeit the lesser of users.

Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

Phil Wainewright

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