Situational Applications and their Role in Enterprise IT
Systems Rationalization and Innovation
Enterprise IT Innovation: ...
Situational Applications and their Role in Enterprise IT Systems Rationalization and Innovation
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Contents
The headings fo...
Situational Applications and their Role in Enterprise IT Systems Rationalization and Innovation
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Situational applications...
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meet situational needs f...
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New innovations that are...
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utilized and a poor use ...
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6. Platform scaling and ...
Situational Applications and their Role in Enterprise IT Systems Rationalization and Innovation
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Rewards of adopting Ente...
Situational Applications and their Role in Enterprise IT Systems Rationalization and Innovation
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Fewer occasions when dat...
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Situational applications and their role in enterprise it strategy

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In this article a describe how situational applications have come of age through enterprise situational applications platforms - and how they are helping organizations to rationalize IT platforms and empower innovation by producing tens if not hundreds of applications

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  • Thanks Julie. I'm sure business people are going to expect technology and media providers in future to be able to sit down with them 'across the table' and craft solutions - or at least shape ideas without having to run to the back office and start coding. We're building HUGE enterprise software platforms these days using the same principles - managing membership organisations, running hospitals, managing road networks... - so I'm sure there is similar appeal for 'situational videos' too!
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  • Very interesting. My business partner used to be a software programmer and was constantly frustrated by the mess he faced, when going into businesses to try and solve their IT challenges. It also feels topical. We're working with several IT solutions developers and distributors (including academic institutions) to produce animations, recognising the challenges their prospects face, the solution their product brings and the benefits to their target market - it feels from our point of view a rapidly growing and if done correctly hugely helpful sector - not just for businesses but for entire communities.
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Situational applications and their role in enterprise it strategy

  1. 1. Situational Applications and their Role in Enterprise IT Systems Rationalization and Innovation Enterprise IT Innovation: Producing an infinite variety of applications to serve the needs of the many on one technology platform Version 2 - Updated 14th May 2014 Ian Tomlin Some people with big names in the world of enterprise IT have gone on record to say they believe the time when enterprise IT could be seen as a competitive differentiator has passed. They believe business IT today is more about consolidating platforms around best-practice methods melded into software code provided by the big software giants of the era: ‘If all of our competitors are using their software, then why don’t we use it too?’. Recent trends in enterprise IT platform consolidation and the overpowering pressure of compliance and regulatory demands appear to support this perspective. Even when this argument of ‘IT Parity versus IT Innovation’ is put to one side, there can be no denying that many organizations have come to realize they simply have too many different software applications and best-of-breed tools resulting in inflated IT operating costs. The consequential impact on IT budgets of adopting many different software tools lies not only in their onward support and maintenance costs but the significant increase in complexity of managing change, bringing data together and supporting ever changing needs to re-use data for different reasons. IT leaders know it makes sense to have FEWER technologies to support. A HUGE AND GROWING UNMET NEED exists in today’s enterprise software market - found in organizations of all sizes - to solve the obvious conundrum: How to best service the demands of more IT literate domain expert user communities for new applications WHILE reducing the number of software tools that already overstretched IT teams must support. This article looks at the role of the next-generation of Situational Applications platforms characterized by Encanvas Secure&Live™ in addressing this unmet need.
  2. 2. Situational Applications and their Role in Enterprise IT Systems Rationalization and Innovation 2 Contents The headings for this document: Section Page Introduction 2 Situational Applications Drive IT Innovation 3 A quick history of situational applications technologies 3 New innovations that are making situational applications publishing work today 5 10 reasons why enterprise situational applications tools haven’t taken off 5 Rewards of adopting Enterprise Situational Applications (ESA) platforms 6 About the author 7 Introduction Enterprise IT has become a somewhat boring topic in the world of IT. It just hasn’t kept up with the cool consumer-wave of online software tools like Google Maps and Facebook that kids find so much fun to play around with and even the rest of us, when we’re not working, wonder why such easy to use technologies are in such contrast with the software used in the office! Fact: There is a sizable and STILL GROWING gap between the quality and usability of consumer-facing software and business software that most people use. But fear not, you won’t have to be using that application user interface that looks like Microsoft Access on a bad day for too much longer! The term situational application has been defined in many ways but generally most practitioners agree on a common ‘purpose and reason for being’; that individuals and communities of users with domain skills frequently need business-class applications to support their information analysis, management and sharing needs. Situational applications then are those software apps that are produced to serve the needs of individuals or small communities of users to address ‘situational needs’. While the majority of applications needs for business users are served by BIG DATA-CRUNCHING OPERATIONAL PLATFORMS - purchased for enterprise resource planning, finance, customer management, operational management, stock and warehouse management, logistics etc. - as organizations develop and fine-tune their operational practices, inevitably more requirements for applications emerge. Over the last decade IT leaders have spoken about the importance of ‘serving the long-tail of demand’ for professional enterprise-grade (i.e. safe, scalable, tuned, compatible…) applications. Most commonly these demands come from individuals and communities that want to analyze data gathered from disparate sources, from individuals that want to put data they already have to other uses and from groups of users within and beyond the enterprise that want to share knowledge and content remotely on mobile devices, from home, or with communities of users beyond the traditional firewall of the enterprise.
  3. 3. Situational Applications and their Role in Enterprise IT Systems Rationalization and Innovation 3 Situational applications drive IT innovation Innovation happens in the enterprise generally in small pockets of users. These are the roles empowered to look across enterprise silos, to find new customers, source new customer value, to be curious about why things happen as they do, to invent new products and come up with better ways of working. Originally, the general consensus was that situational apps were transitory in nature and could be discarded if unhelpful or adopted should they prove to be valuable. The reality of deployments has shown that situational applications generally form part of an applications innovation life-cycle where domain experts start with a ‘question’ demanding data to qualify the answer, but that when answered with data the same enquirers then need to ‘organize data’ and probably build-up a ‘process’ resulting at some point in an operational ‘system’. A quick history of situational applications technologies The first generation of situational applications tools were desktop applications like the spreadsheet. Applications like SuperCalc and Lotus 123 revolutionized how domain experts could fashion new ways of interpreting, capturing, managing and sharing information to meet their personal needs or those of the work communities they operated within. It was the creative tool that underpinned business planning, market research, performance and operational analysis, budgeting and sales forecasting for decades. The spreadsheet was followed almost immediately by presentation software applications like Harvard Graphics that enabled non-programmers to build-up their ideas into stories and share them. These desktop tools were great but they weren’t so hot at managing ongoing data relationships. For this a relational database was needed and the tools to create databases were generally too complicated to use. The second generation of tools enabled users to build their own database-driven applications. It was applications like Dataease and Lotus Notes that eventually moved Situational Applications tooling on a level giving users the means to create their own sites and ‘mini-ecosystems’ including relational database- driven applications. The third generation of tools wedded database creation with content management and collaboration. While Lotus Notes was undoubtedly the forbearer for this generation, companies like Microsoft with their SharePoint Portal Server have done much to provide user communities with self-service and self- governing portals that provide ‘quite a high level’ of database-driven applications functionality, business process workflow design and document management functionality. (Interestingly, even the mighty Microsoft struggled to convey to the enterprise market what Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server was for. I remember it was positioned more in terms of content management for years until IT leaders started to get their heads around the ‘collaborative portal’ idea!) In my opinion, Microsoft SharePoint has been positioned with a focus towards the use of desktop documents as a mechanism for knowledge capture, transfer and sharing rather than exploiting the power of relational databases – even though Microsoft SharePoint does bring with it access to Microsoft’s database portfolio. With the launch of Encanvas Secure&Live in 2012 (the cloudy generation of Encanvas enterprise situational software) we’re now seeing the fourth generation of tooling enter the market. While the second and third generations of technology were undoubtedly big advances - in terms of their ability to
  4. 4. Situational Applications and their Role in Enterprise IT Systems Rationalization and Innovation 4 meet situational needs for applications, and could to some extent be governed by IT - they failed to provide users with the capability to harvest and mince data from existing sources to build new USES OF DATA. Neither did they manage to displace use of spreadsheets and make the transition from the ‘front- office desktop’ to the ‘mid-office’ where business-critical workflows and database applications live. Situational Applications in the News The entire life story of situational applications technologies has done well to stay out of the news. It wasn’t until thought-leader Clay Shirky published his essay ‘Situated Software’ in March 2004 that the idea of socially-centric, built-for-purpose and potentially thrown-away software hit the media. He wrote, “Part of the future I believe I'm seeing is a change in the software ecosystem which, for the moment, I'm calling situated software. This is software designed in and for a particular social situation or context. This way of making software is in contrast with what I'll call the Web School (the paradigm I learned to program in), where scalability, generality, and completeness were the key virtues.” In August 2007, Luba Cherbakov and a team from IBM wrote the first of two articles on what they described as ‘Situational Applications’. In their paper titled ‘SOA meets situational applications, Part 1: Changing computing in the enterprise’, Cherbakov and her colleagues defined the attributes of Situational Applications, stating, “The loosely accepted term situational applications describe applications built to address a particular situation, problem, or challenge. The development life cycle of these types of applications is quite different from the traditional IT-developed, SOA-based solution. SAs are usually built by casual programmers using short, iterative development life cycles that often are measured in days or weeks, not months or years. As the requirements of a small team using the application change, the SA often continues to evolve to accommodate these changes. Significant changes in requirements may lead to an abandonment of the used application altogether; in some cases it's just easier to develop a new one than to update the one in use. Enter the fourth generation of situational applications: The 2000’s saw the introduction of Rich Internet technologies, Web 2.0 and a growing sense of the opportunities that harvesting third party ‘big’ data’ could provide. Many software companies (including JackBe, Corizon, Twinsoft, Nexaweb, Just Systems, Serena, Microsoft, IBM and Encanvas were experimenting with ‘enterprise mashups’ at a time that IT analyst firms were talking up the impact of self-service applications with the means to mashup existing data. A report published by IT industry analysts Forrester Research in 2008 suggested the enterprise mashups software market would generate global revenues of $700 Million by 2013 (Forrester defined mashups as "custom applications that combine multiple, disparate data sources into something new and unique"). It never happened.
  5. 5. Situational Applications and their Role in Enterprise IT Systems Rationalization and Innovation 5 New innovations that are making situational applications publishing work today A number of advances in technology have occurred in the last decade that have made it possible today for situational applications platforms to exist and serve the unmet needs for applications: Rich Internet Technology Many new innovations in the use of Rich Internet Technology have enabled developers to improve usability of applications and things like security, user identity governance etc. for web applications. Balancing client and server-side processing has particularly become a fine art – essential to ensure reasonable levels of performance for users migrating from desktop to web server hosted applications. Cloud and Web Platforms The impact of investments by software and infrastructure companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Rackspace to progress very large scale applications delivery have made it much easier for smaller companies and the broader software development community to get onboard with new applications and develop middleware tooling to support situational applications. Of particular note has been Microsoft’s development of the ASP.NET and IIS architecture that has produced many rewards for development companies including powerful security protocols, resilient Internet Services and the adoption of standards. Maturing browser platforms In the early days, browsers were barely able to reliably present text! Nowadays browsers are much more capable of presenting rich media and have overcome many of the hurdles that once prevented applications from migrating from desktop to the web. Maturing hardware platforms, particularly mobile computing platforms My first mobile phone was the size of a brick. Today, we carry computing power in our pockets every day that would make the first computers look embarrassingly ineffective. Most people today have the ability to access a web browser from one or more applications. Without access to web browsers, the centralized management of ‘federated applications’ would not be possible. 10 reasons why enterprise situational applications tools haven’t taken off With the 20:20 advantages of hindsight it’s now possible to look back over this period and the emergence of situational applications technologies and understand ‘what went wrong’. While the unmet need for enterprise-grade situational applications has never gone away, history has taught us a succession of important learning lessons on the must have’s of situational applications tools – and the use and application of those tools. Some of these must-haves are mentioned here: 1. Master data management and ‘enterprise-grade IT’ The history of situational applications is littered with examples of ‘D-I-Y’ technologies that users can get their hands on to build data capture, analysis, management and sharing applications only to result in a BIGGER IT HEADACHE – lots of new data silos and ‘shadow systems’ that fall outside of the governance or knowledge of IT and lots more sensitive data drifting in and around the workplace that is at best under-
  6. 6. Situational Applications and their Role in Enterprise IT Systems Rationalization and Innovation 6 utilized and a poor use of man-power or worse could represent a data security threat. The latest generation of situational applications must achieve a delicate balance between user and community influence over the business applications they use; with users and stakeholders probably lending a hand in the authoring process while the IT organization retains ownership and management of corporate data assets and is equipped to manage security protocols. For these reasons, situational applications platforms today are largely based on a federated (normally ‘cloud’) architecture, where potentially hundreds of applications may be authored yet they operate from one core, centralized computing platform architecture able to set master data management, user permissions, look and feel, data security and policy compliance standards. Are applications produced by users and stakeholders themselves? No, generally not because analysts are best equipped to understand how database work and how processes need to work. They are also aware of IT data governance and management policies and the extent to which data can be shared and made available for individual users and communities of users to consume. The centralized, distributed model of computing ‘controlled by IT’ has moved situational applications to a place where they can be now considered ‘enterprise-grade’ and suitable for sustainable onward use. 2. Clarity over role definitions There has always been a belief (call it perhaps a ‘hope’) that a more tech-savvy generation of users would one day be able to build their own apps without needing coding skills, process know-how or project skills. Not only has this proven not to be the case in practice, nowadays it’s accepted that wasn’t really a great idea after-all. The fact is that people whose day job is focused on doing something other than IT don’t REALLY need the distractions of having to build their own applications! Not only this but experience of deploying situational applications over a decade suggests that there is a lot more to building applications than just coding know-how. It’s only in recent years that practitioners of situational applications technologies have bottomed out the various roles that need to exist in this new model of situational software authoring. 3. De-skilling database and applications design know-how We know now that understanding ‘how databases think’ and how ‘work-flows’ is an essential ingredient to building good applications (for any purpose) and in reality the way people think isn’t always in-tune with these attributes. Not everyone can build applications EVEN IF they didn’t need to code to do it and EVEN IF it was considered a great plan to let everyone in an enterprise start building their own apps! 4. Richness of data integration and ETL tools A fundamental aspect of situational applications is that they should be able to harvest data and leverage investments in IT that already exist. Accessing data from disparate sources is a highly complex task. Not only are there many different forms of file types, there are also many alternative formats. Situational Applications technologies need to be able to coordinate and manage information flows, data transforms and uploads without the need for additional data connectors or middle-ware tools – otherwise the cost of bringing data together becomes too great. 5. Adherence to platform compatibility standards Until very recently, standards around infrastructure, security, tuning etc. simply weren’t adopted sufficiently broadly to make them de fact standards. It’s taken a long time for de facto enterprise computing platforms to mature. We have much to than Microsoft for in this regard. Platforms like ASP.NET have done much to establish a level playing field of standards that third party software houses can leverage, often without incremental cost.
  7. 7. Situational Applications and their Role in Enterprise IT Systems Rationalization and Innovation 7 6. Platform scaling and versioning The ability to produce many hundreds of situational applications has a significant potential downside. As was encountered when Lotus Notes became popular, proliferation of applications can result in EVEN MORE disparate data and LESS control over enterprise IT. Modern situational applications have to be able to manage scaling issues, to enable IT teams to scale applications to tens, hundreds and thousands of applications without demanding a similar growth in numbers of support staff! A key roadblock in this regard is managing the platform versioning of supporting platforms. Imagine how complex it could be if an organization develops and deploys a hundred applications only to find that they are all operating on different levels of platform. Upgrading the platform could result in 10’s of applications becoming non- functioning. 7. Codeless authoring and operation Codeless applications authoring and operation means that point and click design tools and parameterized configuration selections (drop-down choice menus etc.) are used to negate the use of code and scripting. When applications are coded or scripted they inherit costs that make them too expensive to repeatedly build; costs such as testing, tuning, reworking, integration etc. Situational applications need to be authored without coding because it’s the only way to deliver the scale of authoring and deployment economies needed to make the model work. 8. Critical-mass of incumbent design tooling over best-in-class components It probably goes without saying but any situational applications platform, in order to deliver the variety of information management applications demanded by business users, needs to include out-of-the-box’ a substantial critical mass of features. If not, all that happens is people try to build the apps they need, only to find out they hit a road-bock due to limitations of the platform and they therefore have to return to good ol’ coding to get the job done properly. 9. Extensibility No-matter how complete a software platform might be, it would be almost impossible to cater for the needs of every single use-case. It’s therefore essential that platforms can cater for close integration of data sources, user interfaces, third party applications – whatever is needed to ‘complete’ an application. Modern platforms employ extensibility capabilities in a number of forms such as HTML script and C# code windows, DLL integration tools and data connectors of various forms. 10. Predictable economics Organizations would struggle to build a business case to justify adoption of situational applications platforms if there were a scaling of costs that led to unbudgeted, unpredictable expenditure. This means that Enterprise Situational Platforms are normally charged on a flat line rate irrespective of the number of data connections, users or applications they scale to.
  8. 8. Situational Applications and their Role in Enterprise IT Systems Rationalization and Innovation 8 Rewards of adopting Enterprise Situational Applications (ESA) platforms Using a common platform for authoring situational applications has a number of key impacts on the effectiveness of IT organizations: 1. Lowering the Total Cost of Operation (TCO) of the enterprise IT function Reduced or removing software costs These economies come in areas of software licenses and rentals, annual maintenance charges and upgrade charges (situational applications have no upgrade costs!). Reduced IT project costs and risks Adoption of live-prototyping applications created without coding take the risk out of software developments. Before major investments are put into software projects, live prototypes are developed in consort with stakeholders and deployed. Their return-on-investment is qualified. Reduced technology skill-sets Adoption of code-less software has a huge impact on 2. Raising the bar on stakeholder value and competitive innovation Improved stakeholder value through faster time-to-release and design of better-fit applications A characteristic of situational applications designed in consort with stakeholders (thanks to the removal of coding delays and overheads) is that applications can be iterated to the point they become the ‘best-fit’. Not only is this a qualitative dividend with applications being more intuitive, but the design approach also contributes towards the faster time-to-release of new applications given that the majority of testing, tuning, integration and reworking tasks are removed. Achieving step change innovation possibilities With situational applications more opportunities exist for innovation. The people with the ideas, curious managers, creative minds, thoughtful analysts all get to access the data they need in the way they need it. They have more opportunities to work collaboratively with individuals and teams that can add knowledge, experience and resources. In short, IT stays always in-tune with the needs of the most influential minds. 3. Improving data governance and information risk Fewer shadow systems Shadow systems are self-authored applications (commonly spreadsheets, presentations and word processing documents employed to capture, analyze, manage and share data). Use of enterprise situational applications platform means that demands for new situational applications can be easily served by central IT teams – so there is NO NEED for workers to build their own self- authored apps that expose data to risk.
  9. 9. Situational Applications and their Role in Enterprise IT Systems Rationalization and Innovation 9 Fewer occasions when data is held on hard drives One of the most common forms of data risk occurs when workers hold their data locally on hard disks – on phones, memory cards, laptops etc. Cloud-based situational applications platforms make data accessible via a web browser ‘anytime, anywhere’ so there’s no need for workers to hold data locally on devices. Greater control over user permissions across and beyond the enterprise Situational applications platforms employ greater control over user permissions. They support federated identity management and provide fine-grained control over what users see, the forms they can access – even the building blocks on forms they can see. This ability to shape permissions to suit differing needs means IT administrators can coordinate security protocols that envelope needs of stakeholders and users beyond the traditional firewall of the enterprise. About the Author Ian Tomlin is a management consultant. He is a regular writer on topics of enterprise IT innovation and its role in supporting organizational improvement and product innovation. He has written three books on business and technology. In 2001 he established NDMC Consulting to focus on his passion for helping organizations to grow by better understanding and growing their customer value. This led in 2002 to the creation of the Enterprise Action Framework performance system and in 2003 his observation that IT innovation was being substantially hampered by silos of operation and the absence of enterprise-grade situational applications software tools. Encanvas software is the brain-child of Nick and Andrew Lawrie and Ian Tomlin. It has grown through a string of successful blue-chip deployments to become one of the most adopted situational applications platforms in the world.

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