Force.com and its Implications for Technology Service Delivery Models

For years, the rallying cry for the CIO has been to align IT with “The Business.”  This presupposes that there is a wall between IT and other functions and processes within an organization, which of course we know to be the case. While nearly every business function that lives in its own silo has challenges integrating with other functions within the organization, IT has been particularly challenged because of the technology-centric reality of its world; while other functions may not necessarily have a direct impact on the value chain, IT is often viewed as being completely disconnected from it in many organizations.

Technology vendors have long targeted the CIO with messaging that implies an understanding of ITs alignment pain, and they have offered myriad remedies for closing the gap between IT and the underlying business processes that create value in an organization. Everything from enterprise applications to network management tools have promised to lead beleagured CIOs to the Shangri-La of “IT-Business-Alignment.”  Ironically, the technology with the most promise for bridging the IT-business divide has been right here under our noses, but only a relative handful of visionary organizations have embraced it to drive business value.

So if the technology is here, why haven’t the barriers between IT and value-creating business processes crumbled like the Berlin Wall?  The answer is simple: Technology without process is an empty proposition. Herein lies the key to bridging the divide between technology delivery and key business processes – stop viewing them as discrete entities. No single technology is going to magically run a business, and no business process can exist without technology. This is by no means a new idea, but in order to fully grasp the concept, one needs to embark on a journey of cognitive dissonance…forget everything you know about how IT and business have worked together in the past, because the traditional models of delivering technology services are dead.

Cloud computing presents a fundamental restructuring of the way technology services are delivered; in a way, cloud computing represents the technology manifestation of service-oriented design and delivery principles. Cloud computing does not create a bridge between technology and business processes – it goes far beyond that by obliterating the bridge and merging technology with process. The cloud computing service that best represents this unified technology and business process paradigm is the Force.com platform by salesforce.com.

By taking most of the variables out of the technology equation that have long been the domain of the CIO and the IT organization, Force.com gives those closest to business challenges the power to create their own situational solutions rapidly and effectively. This does not necessarily diminish the need for IT, as long as IT evolves to meet the challenges of managing the proliferation of cloud computing services throughout the organization; by undergoing a fundamental metamorphosis into a service and system management function that focuses on unlocking business value through governance and integration, IT can reinvent itself and retain its relevance within most organizations.

So what does this look like if IT is no longer the center of the corporate technology universe and business process owners have direct influence over the systems that enable the creation and optimization of value chains?  Simply stated, the role of the business analyst has just been elevated to the top of the system design and development hierarchy. Once relegated to the role of translating business requirements into pseudo-code and “throwing it over the fence” to a project manager or counterpart in the IT organization for further chunking and processing, the analyst has direct access to the technology systems and can implement or change functionality directly, providing immediate feedback and reducing cycle times dramatically.

Not to put too fine a point on this concept, but empowering those with the deepest of domain expertise to manage process-focused technology services and situational applications is game changing. Take a step back and look at a typical system development lifecycle process in a typical midsized or large organization:

  1. A business need is identified within a functional area of the organization
  2. The business need is validated by an analyst
  3. A business case is developed to justify the cost and effort to engage the IT organization to design and implement a technology to address the business need
  4. A business project manager is assigned to manage administrative overhead and the relationship with IT
  5. An executive sponsor from the business function is assigned to provide leadership guidance and political capital to the effort
  6. A business architect is engaged to design and integrate a functional solution with current business processes, independent of technology
  7. The business analyst breaks down the architectural, functional, and feature requirements and writes a voluminous requirements document
  8. The project manager initiates the process of engaging IT
  9. IT tells the business project manager that it is too overwhelmed to take on any new projects
  10. The business executive sponsor exerts political influence with a counterpart in the IT organization, and the project gets prioritization and traction
  11. The business and IT project manager organize a project kickoff meeting that promises great fanfare and a pizza lunch
  12. A clever name or acronym is assigned to the project
  13. The business project manager presents the business case and the project requirements to IT
  14. An IT analyst interprets the business requirements and translates them into IT-centric terminology
  15. An IT architect takes the interpreted business and technology requirements and designs the network, server, platform, database, application, presentation, and security architectures for the proposed IT solution
  16. The architect presents the solution architecture to the business stakeholders, and they nod their heads in polite agreement despite having little comprehension of what is being proposed
  17. The architect engages functional architects to design the specific components of the proposed solution
  18. IT project managers from each of the impacted functional areas are assigned to the project to manage Gantt charts and status reports
  19. The IT project managers assemble teams of the appropriate technical subject matter experts, all of whom are currently assigned to a minimum of ten other projects and have little available focus or bandwidth
  20. Internal IT project kickoff meetings are held, with pizza but slightly less bravado
  21. After 6-9 months, if the entire effort has not died on the vine, a preliminary system is presented to the business for usability testing
  22. The business stakeholders test the system and find that it bears little resemblance to what was originally envisioned
  23. The entire project team is pulled into an all-day offsite meeting at a local hotel with catered snacks and delicious coffee to figure out what went wrong
  24. It is determined that certain assumptions that were made at some point in the process were not valid, and the project regresses to mitigate the faulty decision logic
  25. 15-18 months after the initial launch, the project is re-lauched with a clever new name and another pizza kickoff meeting, and the cycle is repeated until the project is either cancelled or a system is delivered that meets roughly 20% of the originial business requirements.

Now look at an analyst-driven situational development process, enabled by Force.com:

  1. A business need is identified within a functional area of the organization
  2. The business need is validated by an analyst
  3. The analyst plans and designs a solution to address the business need
  4. The analyst configures Salesforce or builds a custom Force.com app in a development instance of the platform
  5. For any advanced design or development work, the analyst calls a trusted partner to provide on-demand Force.com expertise
  6. The analyst presents the new system to the business stakeholders
  7. Having direct access to the new solution, business stakeholders provide instant feedback to the analyst, which is then incorporated into the solution design
  8. This iterative process is repeated two or three times until the system is refined to the point where the business stakeholders are thrilled with the results
  9. 6-8 weeks after the launch of the initiative, the new app is approved for production rollout, users are trained, and the business rapidly incorporates the new functionality into its processes
  10. The business stakeholders take the analyst out for pizza to celebrate.

By empowering those closest to business challenges to create their own situational applications and solutions, organizations put themselves in a position of competitive strength by focusing on agility and rapid delivery of business outcomes rather than adhering to cumbersome and outdated technology implementation methodologies. Force.com and other cloud computing technology enables this transformation, and organizations that embrace this evolution and structure IT and business processes to leverage the game-changing potential of the cloud will find the rewards to be orders of magnitude beyond what was possible with traditional IT service delivery processes.

Mike Topalovich Salesforce Technical Architect in Chicago
Mike Topalovich - Salesforce Certified Force.com Platform Developer I Mike Topalovich - Salesforce Certified Force.com Platform Developer II Mike Topalovich - Salesforce Certified Force.com Developer Mike Topalovich - Salesforce Certified Force.com Advanced Developer
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Mike Topalovich

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