A decade ago, as I was developing image processing algorithms, I discovered Khoros. This was a visual programming environment for image processing. It allowed a user to connect together different imaging components together to create a flow to work on images. It made imaging come alive.
When we set out on a journey, the map is an essential tool which gives the visual lay of the land. When we learn computer programming, one of the first things we learn is the use of flowcharts for defining the algorithms and logic of the program under development.
BASIC as a programming language has existed for many years. When Microsoft launched Visual Basic and provided a graphical programming environment and some building blocks, it helped create a whole generation of programmers by simplifying the process of creating and testing software applications.
Businesses need the equivalent of Visual Basic for defining their processes and information flows, and for putting together the pre-fabricated software components to represent their enterprise. Think of this as a Visual Biz-ic for business processes. Visual Biz-ic would provide an integrated development environment for an enterprise to define its business “algorithms” and processes as business rules, and then use a visual charting tool to “code” it up. This obviously is too simplistic for the big companies, but may actually work well for the small and medium enterprises (SMEs), most of whose business processes have nothing really proprietary about them.
Much of the problem in software development arises because of a mismatch between what is expected and what is delivered — business managers and software engineers don’t always speak the same language, and intermediaries (business analysts) may tend to over-simplify. What Visual Biz-ic does is to empower the business managers, who know the processes that they manage best, to take their knowledge and codify it.
Take this idea one step further. Once enough SMEs create their business processes using Visual Biz-ic, an online business process library can be built by aggregating together the business processes and the associated objects and information flows. The system then can even suggest (like Amazon’s Book Recommendations) what processes and software to use provided one can compare an enterprise to another, or identify the industry.
The idea by itself is probably not very novel. What is different about it is the market segment to which it is being applied. Just as Visual Basic created a mass market of developers, Visual Biz-ic too could help in adoption of technology and automation of business process by the mass market of enterprises. It also provides an excellent platform for independent software developers to take existing software components and business processes and customize them for their clients only the last 20% of development needs to be done, rather than building from scratch.
Why is Now the time to put Visual Biz-ic in action?
For one, the emergence of standards for software (XML, SOAP, WSDL, UDDI) and business processes (ebXML, RosettaNet) make it theoretically possible to create re-usable components. Second, the Internet makes it possible to build and search a library of business processes. Think of this as a Napster for enterprises just as Napster made it trivially simple to share music (albeit illegally), Visual Biz-ic can enable companies to share their business processes. Third, there is a growing realisation that information can offer a key competitive advantage for enterprises in this Age of eBusiness. Fourth, SMEs have lagged big business in technology adoption and are only now beginning to put in place technologies to integrate silos within the enterprise.
What Visual Biz-ic (together with Software Components) does is provide the lever to pry open the hitherto closed market of enterprises at the bottom of the pyramid.
Tomorrow: Digital Dashboard