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Thirty-six years ago, in 1970, Alvin Toffler published Future Shock in which he popularized the term "information overload" to describe how too much information actually makes decision making harder, not easier. I think Mr. Toffler would agree that what has transpired since that publication is nothing short of astounding.
Data is everywhere now. It pervades everything we do in business and in life. But, just because we are awash in a sea of it, that does not mean we know more, or we are able to make better decisions, or that our businesses run better as a result. Quite the opposite is often true.
Customers get frustrated when they have to enter and reenter their personal information. Employees get frustrated when they have to access multiple systems to find customer or transaction data. This problem is compounded when data in one system contradicts data in another and so on.
It didn't used to be this way. It was not that long ago when ERP, for example, was the single system of record for transaction, financial, and inventory data. But now that data can spread across your organization as well as your partner's, supplier's, and even customer's locations. This creates a whole new set of data silos on both sides of the corporate firewall -- all of which have to be brought together in some kind of easily-accessible, universal way that allows people to make better decisions.
This runaway data proliferation negatively affects your processes, as well. Today, not only does data have to be accessible from multiple systems and devices, but also needs to be accessible-from and made-available-to multiple internal and customer-facing services. It used to be that people in the organization drove the need to adapt processes. No more. Data is becoming a force of nature in its own right.
Some people rightly call this "big data". But volume is not as much the issue as the speed at which the data is moving and the number of sources it comes from – many in real- or near real-time. This forces processes to adapt and change in ways the original architects never imagined -- and at rate that organizations find hard to keep pace with.
The confluence of these forces will actually drive the evolution of business processes. In the future, processes themselves will become adaptive in their own right – without any human intervention. While this is still very much a future state, all the signs point in this direction: big data, fast moving data, pervasive data, multi-point data. Couple this with the need for real-time organizational- and business-decision making agility and ever-more-powerful learning computers that apply artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to make decisions – like re-routing shipments based on weather or traffic data – and you have processes that will self-adapt on the fly.
But that is still a ways off. The problems data are causing today still need to be addressed by humans. We are still responsible for re-architecting our processes to take advantage of the huge opportunities all this data represents while minimizing the negative impacts it can bring. This can and is being done. The key to making it all work is, as we have pointed out in other posts, is to realize that problem solving today needs to account for tomorrow's demands as well; that a portfolio approach will give you the holistic view that minimizes unintended consequences; and that, going forward, business processes optimization needs to be about promoting flexibility and agility instead of simply automating a given set of tasks.
To learn more about the future of business apps, read the white paper: “What is the cost of business process breakdown?”