Software Supporting Processes Not the Other Way Around

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What was funny about that exercise were the looks we got from the no nonsense King of IT: “Of course, we want things to be simple and flexible — why are you bothering to tell us this?” Yet, in the next sentence, they are talking about spending 3 million dollars on a packaged application to help them with one small part of their business, rather than building it themselves (which we all thought would be cheaper but take longer). That’s $3,000,000. But, of course, the packaged application talks directly to their databases, meaning that we can no longer freely make changes to the database without breaking the package, meaning that we can’t evolve the database, meaning that we’ve lost both simplicity and flexibility. Over and over, they complain when we talk about rethinking their priorities, then turn around and make the same decisions that got them where they are now. Frustrating!

This is a good post on the systemic drivers of complex processes, take the time to read the whole post. I have a bias is against off the shelf software as it often ends up forcing the process to be designed around the software. And with the amazing power and relative ease of web based applications creating solutions that are specifically designed to the organization are often relatively easy. And yet, as indicated in this article there is often a strong bias in the other direction for buying off the shelf software because it is cheaper and/or faster.

Of course, the decision in each case must be weighed to determine the benefits and cost of the various alternatives. Just remember, if you decide you want simple and flexible, to have your decisions reflect that. I enjoy a telling quote from a software vendor on Toyota’s IT expectations: “it demands that the software or technology be flexible and adapt, often by customizing the code, to its business processes, and not the other way around.” They are right.

Related: Agile Software DevelopmentComplicating SimplicityJoy in Software Development

9 thoughts on “Software Supporting Processes Not the Other Way Around

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  6. Scott Sorheim

    Brilliant. Came across this reading some of your other articles.

    I blogged about something similar a while back (reference a Mike Vizard article talking about the same thing…bending business process to match the IT system).

    http://leantech.com/blog/2007/06/06/one-massive-size-cant-fit-all/

    Even though I sell a packaged solution, I freely tell people when my solution DOES NOT meet their needs, and for business to not try to force it to do so. I’ve done significantly more custom development in the last couple years building systems that line up with the company’s processes. There can be a lot of value having a business system that lines up with the business process, and tremendous waste with a system not in line with the business process.

    Just like a manufacturing team would build “custom” equipment to support the best process that adds the most value to the customer, why aren’t IT thinkers thinking this same way? You wouldn’t hope for a car to come out the end of a machine that makes chairs? But that’s what people expect of THE SYSTEM (whatever system it is)…that THE SYSTEM will somehow be able to meet all of the needs of their business processes. Build smaller applications that add the most value rather than expecting THE SYSTEM to do it all.

    Reply
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