Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Technology Shift

I was reading an interesting paper written by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson about Investing in the IT That Makes a Competitive Difference ... Quite an interesting paper. Brings up some thoughts ... about the way i have seen the technology landscape shift.

Having worked in the ERP domain for quite some time, the one thing i would see that ERP has managed to bring about is a shift. This shift has been from a primarily function based structure of the organization, with departmental silos dividing the organization into interdependant parts which, nevertheless, didnt talk to each other, to a structure which is more based on business processes, and the flows of these process tasks across various business functions, in the organization. Perhaps the functional, departmental silo based structure was necessitated by the lack of opportunities to communicate, and due to the power equations in the organization. In a world where there are a number of stakeholders for every business process (say, having the Materials/Inventory folks, the Procurement/Buying folks, the Finance/Payables folks, distributed across locations), and no single means for actuallycoordinating work across these in a seamless manner, inter-office memos being the norm, a sort of beauraucracy, leading to rigidity would be something to be expected. With an integrated approach to business, ERP changed this in the 90s, leading into this millenium. ERP vendors, such as SAP and Oracle, have long talked about the process-centric approach that they espouse, more or less.

However, ERP, for instance, has not been the unqualified success one would have accepted it to have been, or the success that SAP or Oracle would have liked to see it as. The reason, to my mind, is essentially to do with the fact that a lot of organizations brought brand new ERP packages, and implemented them on top of existing organizational structures and business processes. Automating a wrong way of doing things, is only going to lead to more mistakes per minute. Having said that, in my experience, senior management teams have come around to the realization that a process-based way of thinking can yield immense benefits. Something similar can be said of frontline executives, who also find the enhanced efficiencies coming from the process-based approach. Somehow, middle management is what hasnt really brought in as much as one would have liked them to have. But, on the whole, mindsets have changed to a very large extent.

Having said that, one thing this process-centric approach doesnt address is people. The process, from this perspective, is assumed to be totally people independant. While this is a nice thing from the perspective of standardization, the fact is that there are always aspects of the business process which benefit from the experience of the people performing those tasks in the process. This experience has not been harnessed too effectively. Going forward, i would like to see a shift in enterprise applications, in a direction where the "people aspect" of business processes gets more highlighted, in a way that people performing business processes should be able to gain from the experiences of others in similar roles, while at the same time, capturing their thoughts in real time. What i am talking about is including web 2.0 aspects to enterprise applications ... to make the shift from a purely business process centric platform, to a process-people centric platform.

In the current scheme of things, enterprise applications, and collaboration tools are two different, seemingly independant components of the enterprise technology landscape. However, somewhere, the context of the collaboration is something which gets diluted in this model. This context (say, the transactional context), could be carried forward to the collaboration.

No comments: