TECH TALK: SMEs and Technology: Visual Biz-ic
Visual Biz-ic (a term I have coined) is at the heart of the business applications architecture. Think of it as doing for business processes what Visual Basic has done for software development. It provides a framework to specify business processes, and interconnect them. It would consist of a forms designer, a workflow manager, a process designer and a library of existing business processes. All of these would be linked via web services, with information exchange taking place through XML. Software developers and process owners in enterprises can use the infrastructure provided by Visual Biz-ic to specify the processes that need to be managed. Visual Biz-ic thus becomes a platform for business process management.
Why is Visual Biz-ic so important? Because processes are important. This is where the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will get their next big increase in productivity. So far, computers have been used for individual task automation email, surfing, documentation, accounting. There is a limit to its impact on productivity. This is because a task is part of a process. Processes need to designed and managed. A process can be thought of as a series of inter-connected and inter-dependent tasks where the output of one is the input of many others. In silo tasks, the output is typically an email, a print-out or a phone call. There is a terminal point. In processes, this does not happen there is a continuum of information flow across people, there is a pipeline that is created. Process management is what are missing in most enterprises today. Only when we shift focus from tasks to processes will organisations reap the true benefits of productivity via technology.
Wrote the Financial Times recently in an article on IBMs next transition (to incorporate on-demand computing and business process outsourcing): Looking at companies as collections of business processes (order entry, fulfilment or billing) rather than functional departments (marketing, manufacturing or customer care) makes sense. Breaking down boundaries between departments to ensure smooth operations is also a legitimate goal. The objective now is to use industry standard technologies – such as the internet and XML, a kind of lingua franca that enables computers to understand each other regardless of the software they run – to bring more flexibility and transparency to companies’ operations.
The specialised functionalities embedded in todays ERP, CRM, SCM applications would need to be re-created as process-driven objects as part of Visual Biz-ic. There would be a set of generic software providers who would provide these components across industries. Some of the enterprises could use these as-is, while others would either customise these to suit their business processes or use other industry-specific components from specialty vendors. Either way, the world of business software becomes akin to integrating Lego-like blocks together, with web services acting as the glue.
In fact, it is possible that SMEs will also need help in the form of consulting to help design their business processes. While the smaller enterprises will chose to go in for the off-the-shelf processes as part of the Visual Biz-ic libraries (sourced from other similar companies), the mid-sized companies may expect to redesign their internal processes and even look at outsourcing non-core processes. Either way, SMEs need the standardisation that Visual Biz-ic brings, very similar to what software developers have been used to with Microsofts Visual Basic.
Tomorrow: 1:1 Computing