If you’ve been following me on twitter, you’d probably be able to venture a guess as to why I’ve been mostly silent for the last two weeks: I’ve been frantically working away at an internal strategy and vision for a Composite Application Framework (CAF). I finished a draft Wednesday and am going through a self-imposed peer review process before publishing next week. In addition to internal peer review, I wanted to start engaging some peers in the blogging world for their opinions on the ins and outs of both the need for and the creation of a CAF in an enterprise. Part of that includes, of course, some discussion around the meaning of "Composite Applications" and CAF, which has several meanings: from being synonymous with SOA (only the beginning IMO) to Web 2.0 in the Enterprise (or Enterprise 2.0 if you like, which I do not). However, before I get into the weeds of terminology, I wanted to share an excerpt from the document that establishes the need for composition period, be it via SOA or Web/Enterprise 2.0. I’ve taken out anything specific to my company, but the rest is true to the first draft of the doc. I would love to have feedback from Mike Walker, James McGovern, Todd Biske, Nick Malick, Mike Kavis and anyone else who wants to weigh in. Going forward, I plan to post some additional sections from the doc for your consumption, review and feedback of any kind. I hope it at least generates some good discussion. So without further ado…

 

The Need for Composition

To understand the value that a CAF provides for an organization, it is important to first understand environmental trends which are driving IT organizations to reevaluate their current delivery models and to pursue composition strategies. In particular, I believe that there are five factors which illustrate the need for an application composition strategy. These factors are:  

  1. The Cost of Building Applications
  2. The Problem with Processes
  3. The "Consumerization of IT"
  4. The Need for Agility
  5. The Desire for a Single User Experience 

The Cost of Building Applications

clip_image002A current reality many organizations face is that IT costs are increasing while businesses are asking for more controls on IT spending. While the high cost of IT solutions isn’t new, more and more organizations are pointing to the cost of integration as a major culprit behind IT cost overruns. According to Ebstrategy.com, "The cost of integration is rapidly becoming a significant barrier to the deployment of new business applications. EBS estimated that in large corporations, approximately 40% of the cost of new applications is spent linking disparate business processes and applications rather than delivering new business functions." (E-Business Strategies, Inc.) Furthermore, Dr. Jean-Jaques Dubray of Attachmate argues that increasing integration costs are a sign that IT is nearing or has crossed the point of "negative ROI," beyond which the costs, risks and complexity of integration make it nearly impossible for the organization to realize any ROI from its efforts. (2005, p. 9) The figure above illustrates this theory of increased cost and decreased value as the number of systems in an organization increases.

 

As a result of this increased cost, Dubray concludes that "…companies are limited in their ability to improve existing business units operations or expand their businesses because all changes in a company’s operation translate into modifying or creating new [Line of Business (LOB)] systems." (2005, p. 9) The increased cost of applications due to integration cost and the resulting limitation in IT’s ability to deliver value to the organization contributes a great deal to the perception that IT is too expensive and slow to respond to the needs of the business.

 

In response to increased cost and this perception, Dubray argues that IT "…can no longer afford to build assets that cannot be reused in future contexts." (2005, p. 9) Instead, IT must view everything it creates for the business as a collection of discrete and reusable assets. In addition, IT must create a framework that enables both the creation of reusable assets and the reuse of those assets in the creation of solutions.

The Problem with Processes

clip_image001The systems that IT creates are typically designed to manage discrete steps in a structured process. An example is web content creation, which typically involves story creation, moderation, publishing and retirement. Historically, IT systems have focused on automating approval, publishing and retirement and have been successful at creating value along these steps. However, the largest step in this process (in terms of elapsed time) is usually the first: story creation. It is also likely the most collaborative and would likely consist of several "ad-hoc" process steps where the author collaborates with other individuals to check facts, obtain more information and even elicit feedback on the document in progress. But the system in question assumes that a completed draft is step 1 in the process. The result is that most applications "…do not enable rich collaboration across functional boundaries. This usually leads information workers to use personal productivity tools to perform the complex interactions required to conduct business. However, this in turn leads to a loss in productivity, as users are forced to cross from one set of tools to another, often manually moving the data through means such as cut-and-paste." (Banerjee, 2006, p. 12)

 

IT cannot focus merely on process automation to create value for the business when the reality is that most processes involve "…much more work between elements than is represented in the initial structured process. This work is often collaborative in nature. Innovation frequently takes place outside structured processes in the collaboration interactions, where imagination predominates, where the creativity of information workers is truly tapped, and where the critical business differentiation occurs." (Keyser, 2006, p. 3) Instead, IT should seek to create applications that enable and enhance the productivity of information workers along both structured and ad-hoc processes, as illustrated in the Figure above (Banerjee, What are Composite Applications?, 2006).

The "Consumerization of IT"

clip_image002The "Consumerization of IT" is a term coined by Gartner to describe the effect of popular technology outside of the enterprise on the expectations and needs of knowledge workers within the enterprise. Gartner argues that knowledge workers are learning new and creative ways to use the web for productivity and collaboration and that they will expect to have these methods and tools available to them in the workplace. According to Keyser, "Based on working with Web 2.0, users will increasingly expect to exert more control over their work experiences and to participate in them. They will expect business applications to adjust to the way they work, rather than accept a suboptimal experience." (Keyser, 2006, p. 2) An example of this shift has been illustrated by a recent poll conducted on Facebook.com by the Gilbane Group (Gilbane, 2007).

 

In this poll, participants were asked to select from a list of collaboration technologies which they plan to use in their jobs the most over the next two years. The respondents were then broken up into two groups (18-24 year olds and 25-34 year olds) and a visualization of the results can be seen in the figure above. While it’s a bit of a surprise that younger knowledge workers will expect to use social-networking sites and SMS text messaging as a part of their jobs and not merely for play, a key piece of information in this unofficial poll is that many younger workers would prefer not to use email as a collaboration tool.

 

The implication, in my opinion, is that IT cannot paint users into a corner by offering one prescribed way in which to accomplish a task or achieve a goal when another tool or method might enable users to be far more productive. In reality, the "Consumerization of IT" means that the use of technology and the tools at an information worker’s disposal are becoming a large part of job satisfaction outside the walls of IT. IT organizations should recognize this trend and seek to provide solutions with the flexibility to meet the technology demands of information workers.

The Need for Agility

Many organizations frequently express a desire to obtain the flexibility to quickly respond to meet new opportunities and demands as a "high priority" which they expect IT to enable. (Keyser, 2006, p. 2) As an organization grows, there is an increasing need for IT to provide the organization with:

  • A platform for rapid decision-making;
  • Tools to help the business sense and respond to changing market conditions;
  • The ability to align business needs with current and future IT assets.

 

To support these business needs, IT organizations should be able to provide applications which are:

  • Quick and easy to deploy;
  • Easy to modify, customize and extend;
  • Aligned with the current and future needs of the business.

 

All of these factors illustrate the need for IT organizations to provide infrastructure and solutions which enable an organization to respond quickly and easily to change.

The Desire for a Single User Experience

As organizations grow their products and services, they typically outgrow the LOB systems they purchased or built to manage their earlier products and services. Those legacy systems are typically run to support the existing business, while new systems are created in new interfaces and bolted into the organization to run new businesses. The result for most users, who typically work with similar business processes across all products and services, is a small to large number of disparate systems within which they perform their daily work. Over time, the business begins to call for integration and a unified User Experience for knowledge workers in an organizations. Organizations who have been successful at implementing SOA usually lay the groundwork for meeting this need, but the path to a single User Experience includes a framework which brings data, processes and interfaces into a shared and consistent experience for knowledge workers.

 

It is important to note here that a single User Experience is not a single user interface or a single system. Rather, a single User Experience is offered by a platform and a controlled number of user interfaces which provide familiar interactions to knowledge workers regardless of the medium, be it Office client, web application, mobile device or smart client. 

References

Banerjee, A. (2006). Building Office Business Applications. The Architecture Journal, (10) 12-19.

Banerjee, A. (2006, December). What are Composite Applications? Retrieved August 20, 2007, from MSDN Architecture Center: http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/architecture/bb220803.aspx 

Banerjee, A., Moinuddin, M., & Walker, M. J. (2006). Office Business Applications: Building Composite Applications Using the Microsoft Platform. Redmond: Microsoft.

Dubray, D. J.-J. (2005, May). Composite Applications: Value Proposition and Architecture. Retrieved August 20, 2007, from ebMPL.org: http://www.ebpml.org/capp.ppt 

E-Business Strategies, Inc. (n.d.). Composite Applications – Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved August 20, 2007, from EBS Web Site: http://www.ebstrategy.com/selfservice/composite/composite_apps_faq.htm

Gilbane, F. (2007, June 20). More Data on Facebook users and Enterprise 2.0. Retrieved August 20, 2007, from Gilbane Group Blog: http://gilbane.com/blog/2007/06/more_data_on_facebook_users_an.html 

Keyser, C. (2006). Composite Applications – The New Paradigm. The Architecture Journal , (10) 2-5.

Platt, M. (2007). Web 2.0 in the Enterprise. The Architecture Journal , (12) 2-6.

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