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IT Directions

Keith Harrison-Broninski

Big Processes 7 - Conclusion - The New IT Stack

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With this entry I will conclude my blog series Big Processes, with a discussion of the new IT Stack that is emerging.  There is general agreement among leading software vendors that at the top of this stack sits a HIMS (http://bit.ly/acm-panel) - that the HIMS is the mechanism via which organizations can finally unleash the potential of their Intranet, and gain some long-awaited ROI into the technologies they have been assembling into an enterprise backbone for years.

The IT industry is finally starting to learn that different tools are required for different purposes - the Next Big Thing is connect-and-collaborate in more than one sense.  But how are all these tools to be integrated?  When is integration necessary at all?  Which Web service calls are to be made, from what to what, and when?

The question appears to be complex, since systems of different types often overlap in functionality.  For instance, HumanEdj can make and receive Web service calls by REST and SOAP, using transactions with compensation - does this make it a BPMS?  Similarly, HumanEdj includes a rule engine and can be extended via scripting to implement any desired consequences - does this make it an ACM system?  HumanEdj stores documents in a repository - does this make it an ECM system?

The answer to all such questions is no, since as any designer will tell you, usability of functions is determined by the form of their presentation.  HumanEdj is not intended to act as a BPMS or ACM system, any more than a BPMS, ACM or ECM system is intended to support for Big Processes.  It is easier to design financial transaction processes using BPMN and BPEL via a BPMS than to attempt the same thing in a HIMS.  Similarly, it is easier to build an expert system for actuarial analysis in an ACM system than using the rule engine inside HumanEdj.  A HIMS is designed to provide support for Big Processes, and to integrate with other systems for routine work, decision support and repository storage.

How is this integration actually implemented? Experience shows that this is typically via extension of the Intranet into a complete knowledge work platform.

For example, setting up HumanEdj for individual or small company use simply involves running the wizard on Windows, or unzipping the download and installing Apache CouchDb on other platforms.  However, larger organizations need to make the software part of the daily experience of their knowledge workers, which means making it a core part of their Web browser usage pattern.

When you run a Web browser on a workplace computer, your home page is generally an Intranet front page.  The underlying intention of this is to route your work through the facilities provided on that Intranet.  However, since most Intranet sites don't let you do much more than search documents and enter timesheets, the first action of many knowledge workers is to navigate away from the Intranet entirely, in order to visit sites that they already have in mind, and that they need to use in order to achieve their working goals.

A HIMS brings these people back home to the Intranet, by making it simple to use the Intranet for knowledge work.  For example, the AJAX Web application that comes with HumanEdj is effectively a set of Web page templates, that can be customized to any extent desired (branded, simplified, extended, and so on), then included as part of an Intranet site.  So when you login to the Intranet, you immediately see what is on your To Do list along with the full current context of all Plans you are engaged in - and can jump straight to the work itself without leaving the Intranet.  If you need to use new external Web sites as part of to a Plan, you add them to the Plan to make it quicker for your own use next time (which incidentally saves the links for future use and analysis by others).

It quickly becomes more natural to do your work via the Intranet than not to do so.  The Intranet comes into its own, as a dynamic top layer of the IT infrastructure, providing seamless access to the rest of the IT stack.

Take away

The global recession is creating new and complex challenges:

  1. Become far more productive;
  2. Build truly dynamic infrastructure;
  3. Manage partner relationships for maximum value;
  4. Improve knowledge work continually.

The solution is simple - place a Human Interaction Management System at the top of your IT stack.  Use a HIMS for your Big Processes and everything else falls into place.

Integration in particular becomes simple and painless, since it is then obvious where and how to use your BPM, ACM and ECM systems.  The HIMS unlocks the true potential of these systems, allowing you to reduce spiraling maintenance costs created by previous unwieldy architecture, and to deliver greater value to end-users - who no longer see separate systems at all, but rather a unified Intranet geared towards helping them do their daily work.

What is more, it doesn't take long, or cost much, to use a HIMS for Big processes.  A 2 day workshop is enough to train people in HIM principles and get them building real, working Plans ready for operational use.  These people don't have to be technical - in fact, it can be better if they are business-oriented.  The top of the IT stack is where the rubber meets the road, and here a practical real-world outlook is better than a programmer's interest in detail and fine-tuning.

In a connect-and-collaborate world, the most important thing is just to get on and do it.

[HumanEdj is available free]

Keith Harrison-Broninski cuts through the hype in his hands-on guide to where enterprise IT is really going

Keith Harrison-Broninski

Keith Harrison-Broninski is a researcher, writer, keynote speaker, software architect and consultant working at the forefront of the IT and business worlds.

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