Monday, January 08, 2007

Selling an enterprise architecture to the business

I have the pleasure of working with an amazing product development director who constantly espouses the importance of his product's core architecture and how the focus of product development has been to build out an incredibly extensible, flexible and scalable platform. Five years of this focus have indeed delivered a BPMS that I was amazingly impressed with when I was first introduced to it.

I get a great buzz out of working with products like this. The ability to configure business applications to a meaningful point, then extend the application by cleanly customizing using well-defined plug in patterns enables virtually any problem to be solved. As a consultant colleague put it, "my imagination is the only limit to what can be done".

As I'm starting to find out, this level of 'can do anything' that the product exhibits can be a challenge. How do I describe to business users what a product like this can do for them, and why its amazing extensibility is so important to them? Or, as I work with the marketing guys, how do I describe the product in a meaningful way that doesn't just pigeon-hole it as a technical platform?

Content-enabled vertical applications (CEVAs) seem to provide a way to frame this complex product. Toby Bell at Gartner has for a while talked about using CEVAs as a model for organizations trying to generate value from their content-centric business processes. CEVAs are, reasonably simply put, vertical templates built on top of content services, process management and collaborative capabilities, to provide meaningful applications that address specific business use cases. Examples are the use of content, collaboration and process management to provide streamlined use cases like:

  • Financial services new account opening
  • Insurance claims processing
  • Credit card dispute resolution
  • Human resources employee on-boarding
  • Processing of requests for government services
  • Identification and research of loan fraud
Well what a surprise! I should be taking this complex system and describing it in terms of the business problems it solves. In a product that is 'market-driven', this should not be a problem, since the requirements for its features address needs expressed by real and prospective customers.

Still, I have the feeling that defining the importance of strong architectural features like application lifecycle management and highly efficient script processing to a business user could be a problem. Maybe I'll reserve that discussion for the IT guys. I must remember that knowing the audience is equally important when trying to explain why a product is so great.

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