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Wednesday 20 January 2010

The Impact of Data Ubiquity

Part 2

This blog post is co-written with Lee Provoost from the social business consulting firm Headshift and started over a bowl of porridge

The end-user of your product doesn't care what kind of data silos are laying underneath your IT system. They just want the information they need to do their work, but very importantly: taking in account the context of the work! Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes, your customer doesn’t talk to you in silos and certainly doesn’t want to be treated in silos. Have you ever called your bank, only to be passed to several different departments? We know already that Interactions aren’t Connected and ultimately we are still running processes as if we are in the industrial age – an assembly line of handoff after handoff.

This is the same as going to a McDonalds and asking for a ‘Happy Meal’ but being told to get a drink from one counter, a sandwich from another, fries from a third and the toy will be sent directly from Mattel – oh and you want a straw, napkins and sauce – there’s self service for that. More of a Meal than Happy! Not quite so fast or convenient food. What happens when the meal then changes, there's a new toy, you add something else to the box - how is the existing process able to cope with changes easily?

We have now identified the impact of data ubiquity:
  1. the corporate IT department being challenged by huge data silos (lock-in) and disparate solutions with complex processes that rely on humans to be the integration layer
  2. the business end-user dealing with too many different and complex applications and not being able to make sense of all the data (filter failure), subsequently not being able to deliver the process
In many businesses the delivery of an end to end business process relies on users accessing multiple software applications that combine to deliver the complete process. The result of this can be disjointed processes, mistakes, slow access to required information, no single customer view and ultimately a dysfunctional customer experience that the business users can’t impact.

So, the goal we're trying to achieve is to provide business end-users Enterprise 2.0 systems with meaningful contextual information in a simple and elegant way – we like to call this fit for purpose!

Mashing it together

As a technologist, the first reaction would be to try to solve this data silo problem. (Let's ignore for a second the old approach to create a monolithic repository, called the black hole, where we dump everything in.) How can we make it more accessible, can we wrap a web services around it, can we apply on a large scale the principles of Service-Oriented Architecture and Model-View-Controller, can we add an open data API interface to it, etc. That will most likely keep us busy for the next coming years. Wake up call: your customers are not going to wait two years till you have your internal issues solved. This approach also often instigates new shadow projects that proclaim to deliver tactical, quick win solutions whilst waiting for the 'nirvana'.

As a business end-user, you're faced with a proliferation of applications. A lot of time and money have been invested in building these, so... why not starting by reusing the useful bits of the existing apps to get immediate value?

This is the approach pioneered by Corizon. An user-centered focus approach, starting with the end users and working down - understanding the process in which they go through to complete a task, be it solve a customer enquiry in the front office or manage work in the back office - referred to as the user process. All too often, technology's answer to a problem is upgrade to the latest version as it has all these new features. The problem with this is that this doesn't necessarily resolve the original problems, complex process, too many applications.

Once the user process is clearly defined, we then (or can in parallel) look at working up - understanding what data & applications we need access to to effectively and efficiently complete the defined user processes. We will now understand the pattern, what gets the most use, by who, how. This firmly puts the cross hairs on which applications to enable for reuse. Unlike traditional data re-use approaches, this approach enables the useful & required bits of applications, but also defines reusable UI and stores these in a library of reusable services.

Now we have two key elements defined, a clear user process and a set of reusable UI services. Corizon's solution then allows you to mashup these to create the optimal interface, be it a standalone UI or consumed as a widget in your Enterprise 2.0 application. Adding new, or removing legacy applications becomes a much less complex task - the UI Services approach allows you to interchange these without affecting the interface.

Good is good enough

At first sight, this approach might sound a bit unconventional, but we'd like to invite you to an excellent post by Peter Evans-Greenwood (@pevansgreenwood) that talks about "The Price of Regret".

Building the big, scalable perfect solution in the first place might be more efficient from an engineering point of view. However, if we make the delivery effort so large that we miss the window of opportunity, then we’ve just killed any chance of helping the business to capitalise on the opportunity. ... Size the solution to match the business opportunity, and accept that there may need to be some rework in the future. Make the potential need for rework clear to the business so that there are no surprises. Don’t use potential rework in the future as a reason to do nothing. Or to force approval of a strategic infrastructure project which will deliver sometime in the distant future, a future which may never come.

One thing we've learned in this consulting business is that most of the times, good is good enough since perfection takes an eternity.

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  • At 22 January 2010 at 03:14 , Anonymous Call Centers in the Philippines said...

    This was a very pertinent post. Content and data are everywhere. People are creating and curating content like never before. As data storage becomes cheaper, businesses are storing, archiving, and mining more data than previously possible. The increasing openness of APIs and data portability make more enterprise data available for both consumers and employees to consume. Free flow of data also allows business partner relationships to be readily analyzed and optimized.

  • At 23 March 2010 at 07:35 , Anonymous Call Center Philippines said...

    It’s great to read such topical stuff on the web as I have been able to discover here. Thanks for publishing such great reading material and for investing the time to write it and post it here, I am sure that it will help many.


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