A Paradigm Shift: Designing for Mobility

By Guest Author  |  Posted 03-13-2014
Mobile device

By Shivesh Vishwanathan

If you are thinking of embracing mobility in your enterprise, then your existing business process orchestration, workflow management and choreography methods are likely proving to be major hurdles. That’s because they need to undergo fundamental changes to adapt to the new world of mobility.

I recently attended a seminar held by Rita Gunter McGrath, associate professor of management at the Columbia Business School, and author of The End of Competitive Advantage, during which she spoke about the emergence of what she calls the "transient advantage" for organizations. McGrath claims that the era of a decades-long competitive edge with robust core businesses lasting a lifetime is giving way to fast-changing and entrepreneurial organizations that require continuous reconfiguration, innovation proficiency, and deft resource allocation.

As these changes happen in the business environment, technological changes in key areas such as mobility, cloud computing, data analytics and social are playing a leading role in supporting these business changes, if not fully driving them. To begin with, most traditional systems have been built on functional boundaries within an enterprise. Many of them go so far as to have functional specialization directly built into the product and the company’s go-to-market strategies. As a result, we have systems that are good for HR, CRM and SCM. Traditional workflows and enterprise structures have been built around these functions. Tasks, approvals, notifications, escalation, reports—whichever aspect of enterprise workflow you talk about, all have largely been driven by functional requirements and boundaries.

These boundaries are so ingrained into an organization’s processes that they even impact the customer experience. During her seminar, McGrath gave the example of having to provide her customer ID number first to an automated bot that answered her call, then again to a human service representative. The reason is because these are so many different systems, and interconnection between these systems, if and where it exists, is patchy at best.

As part of a necessary evolution, the traditional boundaries of ERP systems are coming under pressure, and proving suboptimal to fulfilling requests for information, insights, analytics and intelligence that span across different groups, functions and parts of the enterprise. As systems try to become more self-sufficient and intelligent, in order to recognize patterns, recommend actions and take decisions themselves, they also need to be interoperable with other systems.

Systems now need to function along new lines of operation, pulling in related content from disparate systems, gaining insights from data trapped in existing systems, harnessing social intelligence overlaying that data, and interpreting the data based on the user’s context. If organizational functions are the silos in which traditional ERP operated in, a new ERP, or enterprise reinvention platform, is required that can work along a new value-based dimension. This new dimension is composed of content, data, context, social and analytics. Accordingly, the current workflow models also need to be aligned along these new lines of operation.

Here are some examples of these new workflows:

1.    Gathering information from external systems. A travel or stay ticket approval workflow can look up external booking systems to dynamically find the lowest rates or any dramatic change in rates to make decisions on further actions or to notify the appropriate people in a timely fashion.

2.    Using contextual information. A purchase requisition approval can identify the location and time zone of an approving manager and submit the request to an alternative authority or intimate the requestor, if needed—all based on the location information.

3.    Gathering data from different systems. A helpdesk ticketing system can check availability in an inventory system to raise an alert or notify the requestor of a possible delay in closure.

4.    Using social intelligence. The same ticketing system could also look for past tickets by other employees or customers for similar problems and recommend a similar solution or put the individuals in touch with each other.

5.    Overlaying content from across systems. A sales person can pool content from various sources onto her or his mobile device in order to be aware in real-time of what is happening with a customer, the status of ongoing projects and pending invoices, for example, before visiting the customer, or taking any action.

Each of the above examples includes a parameter from the new value-based dimension in addition to the existing systemic dataset. Geoffrey Moore, the organizational theorist and author, calls it systems of engagement, as opposed to the traditional system of records. Whether it is called systems of engagement or the mobile enterprise reinvention platform, the key message is that usage is undergoing a paradigm shift from systemic usage to value-based usage, and enterprise workflows and processes need to be remodeled to include the value dimension elements: content, data, context, social and analytics. If done right, mobile ERP can lead organizations to be nimble, innovative and entrepreneurial—the fundamental tenets of a future competitive advantage.

About the Author

Shivesh Vishwanathan is a mobility principal in the Technology Consulting Group at Persistent Systems. To read his previous CIO Insight article, "Inviting the App Store Into Your Enterprise," click here.