I was asked today if I thought we’d reached the tipping point in systems development where business process had become the driver behind computer systems design. I answered that I thought we were are the toppled-point.
We have spent decades building technologies to help with individual tasks. We have invested millions in ergonomics and user-interface design. Years of frustration have ensued as we’ve tried to integrate these disparate solutions into a coherent whole. And we’ve bullied the users into unnatural acts of process, procedure and practice that have over-complicated their lives instead of simplifying them.
And, only now, we are coming to the realization that we should have been thinking about the job to be done and the process to be followed. All else is point-solutions. We need to take a comprehensive look at the whole and develop a coherent solution to match.
When Codd normalized data for the first time and realized that there is a minimal, mathematically-perfect solution to any data set. That that data set was likely to survive all the evolutions in technology and storage. He codified the data organization rules that make so much of today’s systems work. But he also realized that the way we will make use of all that data is likely to evolve at a dizzying speed.
When was the last time you went into your bank? You account is still your account and the cash in it is still your cash. My bank routing, account and (I’m ashamed to say) PIN numbers have not changed in 40 years. As Codd predicted that data stays the same. But how we access it is oh so different.
As we think about how we support the business we must start thinking about how they work rather than upon what they work: process not data.
If this means we develop systems and then modify them the next day, so be it. If we end up wholesale rewriting the next day, so be it too.
This means a paradigm change in how systems are created. We need new tools that can adapt to the business and that can even be developed by the business – think what Excel did for accounting systems. We have to teach the business to talk to us in terms of business priorities, business goals and business drivers and we have to answer in terms of solution processes, time to deliver and value delivered.