I have been watching evolving trends in enterprise applications for many years, trends that impact the software you use to run your business. These trends include cloud, mobile, social and analytics (often associated with big data). These have been somewhat unique in that seldom has an entire market agreed on what trends are most influential. Not only has the market reached an unprecedented level of consensus, but these trends have had some staying power. While their influence has not diminished over time, today they are simply woven into the fabric of our global, digital economy.
The Internet forever changed the business world, creating the digital economy and bringing new ways of conducting business. In many ways it created unprecedented opportunities and leveled the playing field, allowing any company, large or small, to create a global presence. But with these newfound opportunities comes new challenges and new trends. The pace of business has accelerated, along with the pace of change. While automation helps you connect and survive in this new world, in order to thrive you and those enterprise applications that run your business, need to be smart and agile.
Face it: We live in disruptive times. The 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found 88% of companies believe they face some level of risk in their businesses and/or industries being disrupted by new innovative products, new ways of selling or pricing existing products or services, entirely new business models, or some combination of all of the above. Early results from my 2018 study indicate this percentage has increased to 93%. For that 7% that feels there is no risk, consider this question: How do you think the taxi industry would have responded on the eve of the launch of Uber?
All this disruption has had a cascading impact on business application requirements, making agility – the ability to easily innovate, evolve and change – even more important than current functionality. Change is inevitable, bringing about new requirements. As your business changes, along with the world around you, the speed with which new features and functions can be developed, delivered and consumed will clearly impact your agility. The days of slow and limited innovation are long gone. The cloud plays a key role here, as well as new microservices and component-based architectures.
But software must not only be agile today, it must also be smart.
We all use the terms “smart” and “intelligence” a lot today. We talk about smart devices, smart machines, and even smart cities. Enterprise applications vendors refer to artificial intelligence (AI) as a feature and call their solutions “intelligent applications.” The technology that can make enterprise applications smart is no longer the stuff of science fiction. However, just as there are different levels of intelligence in human beings, there are different levels of intelligence in enterprise applications.
So, what does it take to make an enterprise application smart? Any application is smart in that it’s not dumb. It can follow instructions – instructions like, IF <this condition> THEN <do this>. The assumption is: If the condition does not exist, simply don’t take that action. Or you can make it just a little smarter with IF <this condition> THEN <do this> ELSE <do that>. Business applications have been built on IF THEN ELSE statements since the earliest computer programs were developed. They were intended to automate processes and procedures that followed clear rules, such as accounting processes and manufacturing procedures. And they were intended to report on status, operations, and transactions.
Applications got a little smarter as analysis tools were added and also as they became better communicators. Early enterprise applications were notorious for being far easier to get data into that information out of. You had to know exactly where to look and how to get there if you had any hope at all of getting answers to business questions. And you had to ask all the questions because the solutions didn’t offer up much to notify you of issues.
When most solution providers today talk about intelligent applications, they really mean new ways of interacting with the solution and analytics that help you derive more and better insights from the data. But this is the minimum of what you should expect today. You need to be taking those first baby steps towards real intelligence, whether it is through a digital assistant, understanding the analytical capabilities or weighing in on what you expect now and in the future. You don’t need to be a data scientist or understand the bits and bytes of the underlying technologies. But you need to make sure your vendor does.
If your current solutions are not headed down the path towards intelligent applications, if they aren’t agile and adaptable, now might be a good time to start looking for new, smarter ones.
About the author: Cindy Jutras is a widely recognized expert in analyzing the impact of enterprise applications on business performance. Utilizing 40+ years of corporate experience and specific expertise in manufacturing, supply chain, customer service and business performance management, Cindy has spent the past 12 years benchmarking the performance of software solutions in the context of the business benefits of technology. In 2011 Cindy founded Mint Jutras (www.mintjutras.com), specializing in analyzing and communicating the business value enterprise applications bring to the enterprise.