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Friday, March 25, 2005

The Transformation of IT

by Jay Cross

Web services and services-oriented architecture are utterly geeky terms for describing the most important advance in computing since the byte. Finally, computing is going to serve business instead of enslaving it.

How will this sea change in IT come about? By using the same principles that fuelled the titanic growth of the Internet: interoperability built on simple, common standards; flexibility; faster cycle times; decentralized control; incremental development; repurposing of content; the promise of wealth; and the collaboration of countless true believers.

Consider three aspects of the new computing environment: software agents, process management, and rich clients. In an agent-based environment, you don't hard-code everything, because that's too brittle an architecture to adapt to change. Instead, you package capabilities (sales, simulation modules, FAQ-bits, whatever) as independent software "agents," pitch them into the virtual stew of your business, and let them collaborate to create value-added transactions. Just as the Web has no weaver, these programs have no programmer. You set them in motion and let them do the work.

All purposeful business activity can be divvied up into processes. Payroll is a process. So are closing deals, sending out invoices, indoctrinating new hires, or converting tank cars of corn syrup into soft drinks. The new IT environment enables users to control things at the process level. Terry Semel of Yahoo! suggests that in the services-oriented architecture of the future, the user becomes the programmer.

This is how it works. Assume I'm a business analyst. On my screen I have a schematic of, say, my company's credit approval process. I see an opportunity to streamline how we process inquiries from South America. I redraw that portion of the schematic. Bingo! The process management system automatically triggers changes in the underlying code.

The upshot: Business units will control their processes instead of IT. No more garble as requirements are translated into IT-speak and back.

Another aspect of future computing, rich-client technology, will provide an individualized interface to each worker: What's important, when you need it, on the device in your pocket, aware of your situation, cognizant of your background. In place of some hard-coded algorithm from management, your screen is a real-time collage of what software agents deem important to you based on who you are, where you are, what you know, and what you're trying to do. Personalization? Don't worry about it; rich-client software makes it part of the operating system.

Posted by Jay Cross at February 14, 2005 08:52 PM


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