Every enterprise has the same problems; complex business processes, a wide variety of often proprietary data sources and heavy use of IT expertise in integrating systems so that end users have the data where they want it. The result is duplication of data and a dependency on IT that destroys agility – how can you respond to incipient situations when you have to wait on an IT release schedule?
The answer is to shift capability out to end-users – to empower end-users with a genuine self-service solution. By bringing data from disparate systems together in a single platform with a simple, useable interface, self-service can be a reality – and significant IT cost savings can be made as users need less support.
Fortunately, data has never been so accessible, with a clear trend towards openness and interoperability at all levels. Starting with XML in the late ‘90s as a standard to replace numerous proprietary EDI standards, we’ve seen new formats and protocols develop over the last few years, through Web Services to JSON and beyond.
However, this has to be presented to users who are expert in their business processes, but possibly inexpert with IT; if it’s not easy to use, the enterprise can’t leverage the expertise in the wider user base.
Fortunately modern browsers such as Google Chrome and Internet Explorer 9 make it possible to build a simple user interface that abstracts the end-user from the complexity of accessing the data. The focus should be on providing a platform with a configurable user interface, which allows the user to decide what makes it onto their screen and how data should be compared and contrasted – effectively this is client-side application integration with Web 2.0 personalisation capability.
The user experience should be beyond that of a dashboard; more a next generation portal. We see it as a gateway for everyone to get to the content or solution they need to get work done without concern for it’s location.
As the aim is to deliver a holistic view of the business there needs to be a way to represent data from multiple sources in a single place. This then permits users to compile dashboards showing data from any source – each element on the dashboard is effectively a window onto a third party data source.
Here’s where the personalisation requirement become apparent as the exact choice and arrangement of these data elements is best left to the end-user. After all, it’s the end-user who’s the business process expert and is best positioned to construct the view of the business that they require. Any such platform should support each end-user in defining their own workplace so that they’re in the best position to manage their business processes.
Of course, building the holistic view is one thing – the end-user will usually want to react in some way too, so it’s logical to extend the functionality of these workplace elements should not stop there. The integration with third party applications needs to be bi-directional, so that the workplace is genuinely a place to get work done. Users need to be able to write to as well as read from all data sources. This allows a consistent user experience to be guaranteed even if the target application has a proprietary UI or database format. It also allows users to deal with incipient situations without switching environments.
Effectively, this allows application functionality to be delivered to all users in a consistent fashion, with the user abstracted from the complexity and presented with every thing they need to work in the one place. This is true integration.