Modernizing Applications & Retooling Business Processes Require a Coordinated Approach

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I often find organizations trying to modernize application systems while concurrently retooling business processes. On the surface it would seem logical that business process redesign would precede major IT retooling initiatives, yet my experience suggests that organizations often begin modernization projects in the absence of a well articulated business process model.

The story tends to go like this. IT is analyzing multiple order processing applications and data structures in order to develop a modernization plan. Expectations are that the systems and the data will undergo refactoring, design changes, consolidation and other transformations to better align system capabilities with business requirements. However, the business team is concurrently launching a business process integration effort across three major order processing business units. Management, in these situations, will cross their fingers and hope that the two projects will somehow converge down the road.

Consider that, in this example, the modernization team will need to determine which system and data structures will serve as the foundation for the modernized environment. Analysts must further address interface redesign, execution flow, business rule reuse, data design requirements and new functionality as it affects order processing. If one of the order processing teams cannot adjust its business processes to use the modernized application, the modernization project may have wasted considerable time and money.

To avoid this situation, I recommend that business and IT teams launch joint working sessions to coordinate application and data modernization efforts with business process redesign tasks. Such a session should occur early in the planning and decision cycle. While business analysts may not have a complete view of their ultimate direction, they may make basic assumptions as to how the process redesign effort will progress.

For example, one business unit may drive the majority of the revenue. That business unit’s order processes may become the foundation for integration efforts when a conflict occurs during the project. In this situation, IT teams can begin looking at the application and data structures supporting the business unit responsible for bringing in the majority of the revenue. The IT team must, in turn, tell business analysts about the design integrity, functional completeness, data accessibility and other factors that may make one application a primary candidate to serve as the baseline for the consolidation project.

Another way for IT and business units to cooperate on such a project is for IT to prototype enterprise application integration (EAI) options based on the collective requirements gathered from various end-users across each order processing unit. This approach allows IT and business analysts to create an initial determination as to which back-end applications are most likely to function in the redesigned order processing environment.

As business process redesign continues, the business team must share its findings with IT. Certain processes may be consolidated, eliminated, added or redesigned. This affects system front-ends and ripples back through the application and data architecture.

One common situation that arises is the need to automate manual processes that may involve user-developed Access databases, Excel spreadsheets and paper and pencil solutions. These process automation requirements must be delivered to the IT modernization team as it finalizes various stages of the modernization project.

Coordinating business process and application retooling requires a degree of cooperation that many organizations may find challenging. It is critical for IT and business analysts to keep the lines of communication open while timing the exchange of information at various stage of the modernization project.

William Ulrich is President of Tactical Strategy Group, Inc., Co-chair of the OMG Architecture-Driven Modernization Task Force and author of “Legacy Systems: Transformation Strategies”. He may be reached through his web site at www.systemtransformation.com.

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