A sponsored IDC paper, "Embedding Additional Value into Applications: What Enterprises Need Most from Application Vendors" talks about the results of a survey on why application vendors need to ensure their applications can integrate and operate effectively inside and alongside other applications. Ignoring the obviously sponsored tone of the paper, one chart showing the results of the survey jumped out at me:
Of the optional responses to the question, "Please rate how important it is to your organization that each of the following features be embedded within your application vendors' transactional applications", the lowest number of respondents placed an importance on a "Configurable workflow engine to automate and optimize processes".
Does this mean that optimizing business processes through automation is not important?
The question in fact is leading up to an explanation of why the workflows inside enterprise applications such as Oracle, SAP, PeopleSoft, Pivotal, etc, are often so half-hearted in their implementation, and largely disregarded by businesses. The survey shows that people recognize business processes are not trapped within a single application.
Of course, components of a process may be embedded or contained in a single application, but it is rare for the whole end to end flow of information and work to be handled in a single application, accessed by every person that needs to touch it or interact with it. Salesforce.com for example has just invested heavily in a new process modeling capability to fit into its Force.com application development environment. This is likely to lead to yet more workflows trapped inside small ad-hoc applications, with frustration from users. Development effort is likely to be diverted before the tech buzz dies down, focusing on get-rich-quick attempts at leveraging this new capability rather than an effort to manage the process independently (but fully linked with) the applications that people use to get their work done.
Business processes exist outside of individual applications. Organizations that achieve process excellence (lower costs, reduced waste, faster response, better customer service, higher quality) know this. Although these companies won't be afraid to leverage small embedded workflow improvements where they are cost effective to do so (i.e. freely included in current software and they improve a chunk of work that is otherwise manual), they know that this approach comes at a cost: a need to eventually incorporate that workflow into the broader business process that everybody involved has access to.
A post from the Improving It blog
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