Application Composition, Agile Development Rapidly Gaining Ground

Information technology projects aren’t slowing down just because the economy tanked — only IT budgets. Everywhere you turn, businesses are facing serious challenges that require a fresh look at how IT dollars are spent. In an era of frugal investments, the costs of maintaining legacy systems and using traditional business process management (BPM) techniques are being scrutinized, while new purchases are being put on hold or cancelled.It’s no wonder, then, that legacy systems and traditional BPM processes are getting the once-over. Ancient processes are creating situations in which businesses simply can’t respond in an agile manner to competitive pressures and consumer demands. Need that product by Tuesday? Sorry — we can’t get it to you until Thursday. It’s inefficiency at its worst in many cases, with the bottom line suffering the hardest hit.It’s not just agility that’s missing in many organizations, either. Misplaced information creates productivity problems for businesses, too. If you’re spending time searching for information (Where is the file on Customer X? What’s the status?), you’re not selling your product or service, and you’re not generating the cash to pay bills.Lack of visibility across an organization and its processes or the inability to manage compliance issues are additional business challenges. All too often, more than one system exists to accomplish a specific task, with information scattered throughout and processes disjointed and disconnected. Despite efforts to combat these issues through BPM techniques, value is often still missing, and users are typically left trying to fill the gaps that disparate applications created.But these challenges don’t mean that you can’t implement case-based solutions that make smart business sense. The key lies in using technology effectively rather than allowing technology to dictate your processes — and your bottom line.

Where IT Fits Into the Business

Although it’s tempting to simply relegate the IT department to the role of business support, it’s a mistake to do so. Used properly, IT departments can be far more than mere support: They can be key business partners who help the organization with strategy, agility, productivity, and more. As a business partner, IT can provide applications that are fast and simple to deploy; easy to modify, customize, and extend; and that align with current and future business needs. As the 21st century dawned, so did the concept of sense and respond — the ability to rapidly adapt to changing market conditions. The agility and customization required to successfully deploy this concept, however, is only possible through the use of technology. Humans, of course, need the ability to step in where required to monitor and analyze the changing market conditions, but it’s the platform underneath that allows for rapid decision-making and the case-by-case management of situations. The partnership between business and IT needs to revolve around a technology platform that allows application deployment to be business led and IT governed. When IT is used in partnership mode, dynamic case management solutions can be created to help businesses in almost any industry. In the most successful situations, leveraging the platform through application composition is the key.

Building and Maintaining the Right Solution

Savvy businesses are warming up to the idea of application composition as a method of partnering with IT on all types of business issues. The concept is that by building up an application through layers — each step informing the next, with none of the steps requiring difficult and unwieldy code — business processes can be interlaced with human and prebuilt technological steps to more efficiently meet business requirements. Think of application composition as a modern custom assembly process. Rather than developing each piece of an application from scratch, prebuilt applications are used to build a unified platform that pulls together all the tools required for dynamic case processing. It’s sort of a modular custom-built home approach instead of a custom home built inch by inch: a quick, reliable assembly of applications that offers reusable, configurable designs and draws upon established best practices to ensure that each piece is as up to date as possible. Take, for example, a medical claim-approval process. The health care provider submits a request for reimbursement, which is entered into the insurance company’s system. A claims representative can trigger any number of responses from “request more information” to “approve” to “deny.” Some of those responses require additional human interaction; some can be processed instantly through the system. The applications involved in the approval process are developed through a network in which each process is assembled from prebuilt, reusable components that correspond to the core business activities, like “submit request,” “approve request,” and “deny request.” Similarly, the user interface (UI) is created through prebuilt forms and service elements. Data is mapped appropriately between the UI, the data objects, and the process. As the claims representative determines the response appropriate for the request, he or she uses a central point of control that contains documents, data, tasks, and discussions related to the specific case. As the process unfolds, the rep has the deep flexibility needed for “on-the-go” process changes and can create and manage the workflow depending upon the details involved. And, because the pieces of the process are prebuilt, the process can rapidly adapt to changes in the business, keeping development costs to a minimum. No developers or custom code is required: Processes can be modified or new processes introduced simply by recombining existing components.

Partnering for Agility

Application composition is a critical concept for any IT project today. The ability to reuse components across multiple processes and applications makes it possible to effectively manage every individual case to meet specific business and customer requirements. Application composition requires a core infrastructure that makes it quick and easy for users to make adjustments as needed throughout any given point in a process, while ensuring that quality and consistency actually improve as a result of reliable management of data, people, and policies. This is where the partnership of IT and business works to create agility and minimize development costs. IT manages the infrastructure to cost-effectively deliver good governance and optimal service levels, while business users apply the infrastructure components to rapidly configure and execute flexible applications. Application composition is rapidly gaining ground as the best way to keep a step ahead of the competition and to gain the greatest IT benefits possible from technological investments. With the right technology exploited through a judicious partnership between IT and the line of business, the days of lengthy application development times and deployment delays are close to being over.

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