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Evolution to the 21st Century Enterprise

  • May 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

Author's Note: Earlier columns have separately addressed concepts of enterprise architecture and also of XML and Web services for enterprise integration. Over the last few months, I have also discussed the changes in our systems development methods that are necessary for evolution to 21st century enterprises that are able to survive and prosper in an environment of rapid business change.

This month, I will summarize the overall messages for the future, drawn from many of my previous columns . Please refer to these past columns for the underlying arguments that support this brief summary.

Adam Smith's book, Wealth of Nations (1776), was influential for the industrial age. It described the evolution from the agricultural age to the industrial age. It was the foundation for most industrial enterprises in the late 18th century and into the 19th century.

By the middle of the 20th century, the industrial enterprise had evolved into a complex series of manual processes. The pace of progress had seen most enterprises evolve to use increasingly complex business processes, with rapidly growing transaction volumes to be manually processed. These enterprises found that they were operating in a continual state of manual chaos!

From the late 1950s, manual processes were automated by the computer. We took the existing manual processes and then automated them essentially as they were (without making any changes). In so doing, we moved from manual chaos to automated chaos!

With rapid acceptance of the Internet in the second half of the '90s, the chaos moved from the back office onto the front doorstep of enterprises through their Web sites. We saw that customers could visit these enterprises by the click of a mouse. However, they could just as quickly leave if the processes did not provide what the customers needed.

The problem is that we have 21st century enterprises that use 21st century technologies; yet most enterprises today still use 18th century disintegrated business processes!

The business processes - originally designed based on principles set by Adam Smith in 1776 - have not evolved to take advantage of the technologies we have today. We need integrated 21st century enterprises together with integrated 21st century processes!

We discussed the problem of redundant data versions in most enterprises. When data values change, all redundant versions must be updated to synchronize with that change. However, with redundant data, we moved to data maintenance chaos!

We also discussed evolution of systems development methodologies: software engineering, information engineering and object-oriented methods.

We saw that in spite of these methods, process changes that require procedural program changes resulted in program maintenance chaos! Our procedural programming methods were not designed so they could accommodate change easily, and object-oriented methods could not identify enterprise-wide reusable code.

We saw that many data maintenance and program maintenance problems are resolved by business integration. We learned that business integration is best achieved by using enterprise architecture.

We discussed enterprise architecture and the concepts of the Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architecture. We saw that the true architects of an enterprise are not in IT. Enterprise architects are the senior managers who set the directions for the future, based on business plans, strategies and processes for that future and its technologies. The future will be based on business processes that use the technologies of today and tomorrow, with strategic directions set by senior management. From these strategic directions, business experts and IT experts can then work together in a design partnership to address these needs of the future.

We discussed the concepts of enterprise engineering for rapid definition and delivery of enterprise architecture.

When the Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architecture is used from the perspectives of the planner and the owner rows, with enterprise engineering applied enterprise-wide, the reusable activities and processes within an enterprise can be readily identified.

The key messages that I want to leave you with for evolution to the 21st century enterprise follow:

Rather than continue to build systems based on operational processes that reflect the needs of the past, by basing our designs for the future on the business plans that define that future, we can build systems that can be implemented rapidly and changed easily.

We must design for tomorrow based on business plans for the future. Our designs must draw on the knowledge of senior management and their business experts, reflected in the strategic business plans of the enterprise.

We must use activities and processes that have been defined enterprise-wide by business experts, applying these plans throughout the enterprise to identify reusable activities and processes.

From this enterprise-wide perspective, we can implement these reusable business activities and processes as business objects that can be implemented once, yet shared many times.

Once implemented, these systems can respond to the rapid business change environments we have today. We will no longer be tied to inflexible stovepipe systems that cannot be changed easily.

We can build for this future using enterprise architecture and enterprise engineering, together with object-oriented methods and technologies such as Web services and service-oriented architecture (SOA) business process management (BPM) XML-based languages to implement in weeks or days what previously took years or months.

Rather than the 18th century processes that we have today in most enterprises, the end result will be integrated 21st century enterprises, together with integrated 21st century processes that can be implemented easily, yet changed rapidly and often.

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