Rising to the challenge of modern systems

With new technologies springing up at a prodigious rate, IT managers are under increasing pressure to satisfy growing demands, writes Jim Close, senior vice-president and UK country manager at Software AG.

With new technologies springing up at a prodigious rate, IT managers are under increasing pressure to satisfy growing demands, writes Jim Close, senior vice-president and UK country manager at Software AG.

In fact, instead of helping, modernisation can pose a massive problem for business IT. So how can companies keep on top of new developments while ensuring their existing infrastructure runs smoothly?

IT can seem like a relentless uphill struggle at times, like you are a hamster on a wheel that turns ever faster the harder you run. The more capabilities your team has, the more your users come to expect. Conducting business operations manually in the modern market is unthinkable - so why the constant complaints about IT being expensive and slow to change?

Do users not remember the time before e-mail, order systems, the internet and automation? It is unthinkable to revert to pre-IT ways. Perhaps business users are too influenced by technology in the home. There, if you want the latest gizmo, you can simply buy it and replace the old one. Sadly, in business, it is not so simple.

The main problem for businesses is that after years of buying and developing multiple systems, firms have an immensely complex mix of applications, all connected with a spaghetti of integration. These are often 100% reliable, but lack the flexibility to keep up with changing business demands.

The consequences of this are all too familiar: business is held back not by the technology but by the effort required to make the changes in a risk-free manner. Ultimately, business processes break down leading to weakened customer service, costs rising faster than revenues and innovation being strangled.

The manufacturing industry faced similar problems of disjointed applications nearly a century ago. Henry Ford created the first integrated production line, whose granular and repeatable tasks cut car production time to two hours from 14. In short, the components were the same but the processes were different.

Manufacturing continues to lead the way, with its Six Sigma and Lean principles becoming commonplace in other industries. This is putting an even greater strain on IT managers.

So how has the IT market responded to modernisation demand thus far? With new software of course. Business process management (BPM) systems abound, and are heavily marketed around the principles of Six Sigma and the promise of infinitely flexible, drag-and-drop business change.

But results from BPM systems are mixed, and many failures lurk behind the success stories. Although excellent in theory, without the knowledge and rules that have been embedded in current systems built over the past few decades, new management systems are liable to fail to deliver.

So what should companies do once they have decided to invest in business process management technology? The key to success lies in modernisation - opening up existing systems and ensuring that BPM technology can cope with the challenge of existing infrastructures. This is what is driving the rapid growth in the service oriented architecture market right now.

A BPM can actually add to system complexity unless it is tightly coupled with existing technology. Suppliers are realising this, hence the consolidation of BPM and SOA companies. Those that cannot do both will struggle to survive.

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