From BI to Process Integration

March 23, 2011
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In my last post, I mentioned the Business Information Resource (BIR) as the single, logically integrated store of all information–from soft to hard, internal and external, enterprise and personal–used by the business. The BIR is the foundation of the Business Integrated Insight architecture I propose as a new way of addressing the needs of modern decision makers; needs that extend far beyond the data typically stored in a traditional data warehouse environment.

In my last post, I mentioned the Business Information Resource (BIR) as the single, logically integrated store of all information–from soft to hard, internal and external, enterprise and personal–used by the business. The BIR is the foundation of the Business Integrated Insight architecture I propose as a new way of addressing the needs of modern decision makers; needs that extend far beyond the data typically stored in a traditional data warehouse environment. However, enterprise IT integration does not stop at the data, of course. It extends to the processes of the business, as well as to the people who comprise the enterprise as a whole.

As a result, the BI2 architecture comprises of three components, arranged as layers from the top down: people, process and information. Each layer builds upon the one below it and is, in turn, influenced by the needs of the layer above. And just as the information layer challenges the current assumptions about how information is organized and used today, the other two layers raise similar challenges. So, let’s think a little about the process layer, which I call the Business Function Assembly (BFA).

While BI departments and practitioners invariably focus on the information of the enterprise, my experience is that business people pay little attention to information in itself. They focus almost entirely on the activities they need to fulfill their responsibilities and the sequence and linkage between these tasks. In particular, today, one of their most pressing concerns is how to be highly adaptive to unanticipated changes in the market. I use Stephan Haeckel’s Sense and Respond concepts to think about this need and have come to two game-changing conclusions about how we need to deal with process going forward.

First, applying sense and respond to the traditional division of IT into operational, informational and collaborative environments makes it clear that these divisions must be dismantled. Every activity, when considered from an adaptive enterprise viewpoint is described in exactly the same terms, has the same steps and has the same interactions with both people and information. The tripartite operational / informational / collaborative division is an old way of delivering IT solutions when computing was much less powerful and business much slower and less complex. Modern business needs and, especially, their integration can only be satisfied if we deal explicitly with their commonality.

Second, delivering highly flexible business processes requires that business people have direct input to and control over the processes they use. Up to now, IT has a separate and distinct set of activities (often called application development processes) that were designed to build IT systems support for business activities and processes. This division of work is defunct! All processes are really business processes and increasingly business people can and want to do them themselves. In BI, we’ve seen this first in spreadsheets, where users develop their own BI reports and analyses. On the internet, people increasingly “mash-up” their own applications; this approach is also becoming prevalent in the business arena.

The bottom line is that business process implementation and automation is undergoing radical change and IT departments and, in particular, BI practitioners need to urgently address how this change affects their systems and roles and what they must do about it. I’ll be discussing these issues at three seminars I’m presenting on the transformation of BI into Enterprise IT Integration in Europe: a half day each in Copenhagen and Helsinki (4 and 5 April) and a full two-day deep dive in Rome (11-12 April).