Advances in development and integration technology, such as the service-oriented architecture (SOA), promise all kinds of benefits: better re-use of resources, faster development and deployment, and more flexibility.
But best of all, these new developments may at last allow business executives to participate more directly in the development of the systems that they need – finally bringing about something they have sought for decades.
Traditionally, business managers have stayed on the periphery of the systems development process for two good reasons: the arcane and complex nature of software and the slow and detailed nature of the process.
This meant they have been forced to rely on analysts and programmers to translate their requirements into code – rarely a seamless process. The “cultural” divide between these worlds is notoriously wide; it is perhaps the greatest reason why
software development projects are iterative processes, requiring continual review and alteration, and why they routinely miss deadlines, overrun budgets and yet still fail to meet business requirements.
Perhaps the biggest single advance is the move to a service-oriented approach – especially to integration. This promises to bridge the cultural divide by presenting software not as abstract code but as functionally identifiable components intelligible to business people.
Programmers will still be needed to weld components together, but for the first time they will work to a blueprint devised by the people who will operate the finished systems.
Eventually, it may even be possible for business managers to manipulate standard software components directly, without the need for any expert intervention at all. But in the meantime, there is work to be done. Investing in web services and an SOA will not in itself bridge the gap between business and IT. Nor will a model driven architecture, which aims to automate the generation of code from business process schemas, or using business process management that gives managers control of systems design and integration.
All these technologies will play a crucial enabling role in putting business in charge of its own systems destiny, but they can only succeed if the business manager explicitly engages in the development and integration process. That is not something that will come easily.
Today, the most advanced organisations are creating enterprise architecture groups which sit between the offices of the CEO and CIO, ensuring that all lines of business participate in the IT decision-making process.
That is still unusual, but the effectiveness of an enterprise’s SOA strategy will depend on how well groups such as these can balance the IT requirements of the organisation’s different departments with available resources. Some will turn out to be just another layer of management blurring development processes. But for those organisations that can make them work, there is an opportunity to drive systems development as fast as business demands.