Aligning IT with Business Processes

Just as physical symptoms indicate underlying system imbalance in humans, an enterprise must be watchful of its technology and business warning signs.

When the body, mind, and soul are not in harmony, chronic health problems can manifest and surface as physical symptoms. Physical symptoms indicate underlying system imbalance, discord, and chaos. Similarly, technology and business also manifest warning signs of disharmony because, like humans, they’re composed of interrelated energy systems.

More than ever, business, technology, and human beings are interdependent. The success of one depends on the support of the others. Yet the ultimate goal of attaining harmony remains elusive. Growing complexity has increased the disconnect between business and IT, and the inability to manage this complexity impairs a harmonious enterprise and disrupts corporate health.

No matter where problem symptoms surface in business, technology, or humans, something is happening at a deeper, unseen level. Varying degrees of chaos disrupt normal operations and can potentially lead to a system’s demise. Core causes of disruption are often difficult to discover, but once they’re identified and corrected, sustainable health is possible. However, the proper treatment must be applied at the root, or systemic, level of the problem. Otherwise, the affected system is relegated to a continual cycle of short-term, surface-level fixes that result in repeated breakdowns and high maintenance costs.

Only in nature do we find timeless cycles of order, balance, unity, and harmony. The Fibonacci Curve appears everywhere, from the leaf arrangement in plants to the Nautilus shell, the bracts of a pine cone, the scales of a pineapple to celestial bodies. It’s nature’s pattern of harmony. It represents the absence of disorder, confusion, and chaos. While harmony is an overriding force in nature, it’s often entirely absent in modern business.

Business and IT have existed as separate entities for too long. Organizational silos appeared and grew as people began performing specialized work with little interaction and minimal communication outside their expertise. As silos grew, IT landscapes became more disparate. Applications were developed for specialized work but offered little process visibility and had minimal integration with other business units.

The resulting business environment is a mesh of complexity and disparity, and not surprisingly, “poor health” warning signs have surfaced. Business today is inhibited by IT process toxicity. Symptoms of application processing disharmony, such as manual intervention, bottlenecks, human error, security lapses, and near-zero visibility, cascade inaccurate or corrupt data to decision makers. As global competition drives business toward the on-demand model, fragmentation, and congestion continue to grow and complexity escalates.

Executive leadership recognizes that poor IT health threatens corporate wellness and must be addressed. Many are working hard to break down departmental silos to more closely align IT with profit-generating business processes. But process innovation requires human resources and often calls for additional technology. The challenge, then, is to effectively tight-rope a line between innovation and maintenance.

Industry analysts report that up to 80 percent of the average IT budget is spent to maintain status quo operations. Innovation seems to only add more stress to already-strained budgets. But the overwhelming interest in BPM (business process management) and SOA (service oriented architecture) in the past year is evidence that organizations are seriously rethinking IT strategies.

As the promise of a less-siloed enterprise begins to take focus, analysts note 90 percent adoption rates for BPM and SOA. Both concepts promise the desired IT/business alignment but, at the core, they’re really nothing new. The driving force remains the same as always—do more with less. The difference today is that poor IT process flexibility is impeding business, and corporate leadership wants improvement. In fact, they demand it.

Getting in Synch

Business is only as flexible as the IT processes that support it, and organizations constantly change and adapt. “Good enough” is no longer good enough. IT has the incredibly difficult job of pioneering innovation while maintaining application service levels. IT will enable service-oriented, application- and platform-agnostic business processes, but getting there is a serious challenge. Disharmony is everywhere and layers of complexity abound. An organization will reap greater competitive advantage by first breaking down the walls that isolate IT from business. Emerging trends promise to do this for future IT implementations, but they do little to address the existing chaos of legacy applications.

Nearly all business processes rely heavily on asynchronous, or batch, transactions. According to leading analysts, batch tasks account for up to 70 percent of enterprise integration requirements. BPM and SOA initiatives built over rudimentary asynchronous process management are bound to encounter many of the same latency and complexity issues experienced today. Real process innovation begins by examining the systemic cause of IT pain and improving from the ground up.

To create wellness in IT, we can apply some of the same practices used by humans. The first stage in a holistic approach to health and wellness is detoxification. The body—business, technology, or human—must be cleansed of destructive toxins and pollutants that cause fatigue, lethargy and dysfunction. Automating and integrating asynchronous IT processing at the root level—application infrastructure—removes many unseen IT toxins that cause business pains.

Visibility is gained and compliance risk is removed. Processing latency is eliminated as tasks execute by event. Data accuracy improves as manual handoffs are reduced. IT is relieved of mundane tasks to focus on innovation, and business achieves greater harmony while reducing costs. Event-driven automation is, effectively, a technology enema. It replaces IT process chaos with intelligent application management.

The second step in holistic healing is to replenish, nourish, and restore body chemistry for a new level of alignment and balance. Like the human body’s circulatory system, an asynchronous IT processing environment is its own ecosystem, layered with complexity, fragmentation, disparity, and disharmony. Event-driven technology nurtures and fortifies the application processing environment to promote speed, flexibility, and performance.

As business grows, IT typically scripts integration and automation for repetitive tasks. This works but is costly to maintain, presents security issues, and offers little flexibility. With event-driven automation, the majority of scripted integrations are quickly replaced with reusable objects. This eliminates maintenance headaches and speeds process change. Moving forward, object-based modeling speeds application deployments and easily scales because it encourages reuse and allows global changes.

Intelligent toolsets offer workload balancing and conditional processing logic to maximize system resources for overall business acceleration. Since all asynchronous processing is now managed using a single tool, the enterprise gains much-needed transparency during a time of increased regulatory pressure.

The final step to sustained health and wellness is acceleration and growth. There are no “quick fixes” that deliver long-term quality of health, endurance, and well being. Instead, it requires monitoring and caring for many interdependent systems. Addressing root causes of poor health will always provide better results than covering up symptoms with Band-Aids. True healing begins at a granular level and quickly works its way out to the macro—or enterprise—level.

Aligning IT with business is a significant challenge and requires much hard work: work to plan, work to develop, and work to implement. To succeed, IT must first bring to order existing chaos to create a solid foundation for future IT endeavors such as BPM and SOA. Event-driven management of enterprise-wide application processing removes risk, latency, error, and cost while closing the gaps between organizational silos. The result is greater harmony between IT and business, which leads to corporate wellness and sustainable competitive advantage.