Does senior management think your company’s aging suite of application systems is still adequate? When you bring up modernizing your IT infrastructure, does the boss remind you about the importance of making do with what is already in place? Does he or she look you in the eye and ask (in that tone of voice with the slight edge to it) if there is some particular system that you think needs immediate attention? And in the silence that follows, does it seem best to just drop the subject?
If this describes your efforts to bring your organization’s systems into the 21st century, don’t worry. This is a common situation. But here’s the good news: You can do a short pilot project and in a few weeks (really!) show the CEO and CFO the first version of an enhanced system that demonstrates your ideas for leveraging consumer-powered IT. Smart use of social media applications such as wikis, YouTube, Facebook, WordPress, and Twitter, when combined with prudent data security measures, let you quickly add new functionality to existing enterprise systems. Better still, they drive potent new ways to engage, communicate with, and delight customers, employees, suppliers, and partners.
The last time your company built a new application or upgraded an existing system it was probably a multi-year undertaking. People spent months trying to figure out what everyone wanted. The meetings were interminable. The development work dragged on forever. It was a big capital expense. The CEO and CFO were in a situation where they didn’t feel they had much control, nor did they really understand the technology or all of its benefits. They had to shell out the cash and trust that it was going to create something the company could really use. Once people have been through a death-march project like that, nobody wants to do it again.
But today it makes sense to take a page from our increasingly consumerized world, and ask if we can make enterprise system modernization more efficient. Instead of trying to figure out everything in advance, start work today. Break the big projects down into a lot of smaller, more manageable pieces. List out and prioritize new system features people want, and then every few weeks, deliver the highest priority features. People can start using these new features right away, they can re-prioritize the remaining features, and they can add new ones they hadn’t thought of before. This way organizations see benefits quickly, and they can keep enhancing their systems based on feedback they get from new features as they’re delivered.
You can take advantage of consumer technologies and social media to add popular (and profitable) features fast. For example, virtually all social media applications have APIs (application program interfaces) that make it easy for them to be integrated with your existing website or intranet portal, while SOA (services oriented architecture) lets you integrate these features and more to your internal application systems. This lets you leverage what still works in your mission-critical internal systems and maintain their existing look and feel, without forcing people to relearn how to use those systems. At the same time, you’re improving system functionality with new features and technologies familiar to everyone.
Imagine the possibilities for mixing and matching consumer social media applications with your existing suite of enterprise application systems. Your company’s website becomes a portal to all of the services and information you can offer to customers, suppliers, and employees. For instance, you could use SOA and appropriate data security measures to integrate the functionality of Facebook with the data, reporting, and transaction processing capabilities contained in your company’s product catalog and customer service systems.
Using Facebook, you could quickly update those systems with a user interface that people already know. They could see pictures and descriptions of your products, leave comments, send messages, and spread the word to their friends and colleagues about products of yours that they really like. And your business acquires all of Facebook’s rich functionality, without the expense of building and maintaining these capabilities yourself.
You could enhance your company’s market research and public relations systems by incorporating the blogging features of a custom WordPress template, for example, and making it easy for company executives and your marketing team to publish images, text, and other corporate content. You could incorporate YouTube for videos and Twitter to broadcast anything new that shows up on the external website or intranet — blog posts, new products, new locations, pricing changes, etc. This would improve how customers, partners, and employees stay abreast of what’s happening in your company.
Moreover, the techniques and skills used to integrate consumer social media with your website or intranet lend themselves to deeper enterprise integration. A technique such as XML Web Services, a core component of SOA, is an ideal way to connect new consumer technologies with back-end systems such as ERP and CRM. And SOA is a great way to leverage useful functionality from legacy systems and mainframe infrastructure. Yes, you can extend that mainframe legacy system and integrate it with the latest iPad or other nifty consumer devices, and deliver exciting new user experiences to boot, using SOA.
This is how to position your IT team to create the continuously evolving systems infrastructure your organization needs to keep up with the fast-changing, unpredictable consumerized world we live in. You are now transforming your company from a slow moving relic of the last century to an agile and responsive organization designed to thrive in the real-time economy of this century. And you can do it in small steps that make it easy for the CEO and CFO to buy-in and support your mission.