Organizational needs evolve faster than the organizational systems can. This leaves the personnel using the systems to come up with creative ways to bridge the gap, until the system can be updated. Sometimes the change may be a new manual process, or in some cases, a semi-automated solution built by the field user closest to the organizational need.
Over some period, this automation evolves with the gap, resulting in more new processes, until the semi automation begins to break. This results in a louder call to update the original system and incorporate the semi- automation and the new requirements in a better solution.
Once the update is prioritized and budgeted, the first instinct is to use the semi-automation as a starting point. Unfortunately, more often than not, such ad hoc systems are built around MS Excel Macros, or MS Access databases, or other ad hoc software code that is good for a small team but can really not be leveraged for the enterprise. Thus, the solution has to be rebuilt from scratch, causing lost time and effort.
This paper discusses how the central IT division can enable the field organization’s to innovate and fill the organizational system gaps – and do so in a manner that the final solution can be made available, more easily, to the enterprise.
Central IT Team Constraints
The Central IT (Information Technology) organization typically has several constraints to satisfy. These may include resource restrictions, compliance requirements, security footprint, support plan for new applications, vendor’s end of life roadmap and of course (sometimes) conflicting requirements from end users.
These challenges weigh the most agile and nimble of IT departments down. Unfortunately, these and other real issues make the department seem less responsive to the end user, which in turn prompts them to build solutions on their own.
Further, such ad hoc field built solutions lack IT standard compliance. But, when they get a life of their own and have fires associated with them, IT is generally required to step in, douse the fire, and provide a standardized solution, adding to the woes of already thinly stretched IT resources.
IT and Business Engagement Challenges
The business users themselves are under significant challenges as well. They may have a genuine fire that needs to be resolved as soon as possible, regardless of the source of the problem. More often than not, IT or automation is part of the solution.
However, before IT can be meaningfully engaged, the requirements have to be finalized. Either the project lingers at this stage, or, if it does get a go-ahead, those in the field find themselves under severe time constraints to support these efforts among other key IT initiatives, while continuing to do their day job. Plus, new fires requiring immediate attention are generally the norm rather than exception. As a result, the sustained participation of those in the field and on the edge of an organization is sometimes difficult.
This leaves the IT organization with a few choices:
- Deliver the project with limited requirements discussions – which invariably results in missed target or unrealistic expectations, risking the project to be perceived as a failure.
- Push back the delivery date or freeze the project until availability – which again invariably is perceived as an IT issue (unfortunately)
- Negotiate more time with the field personnel – which works for a little before the cycle of conflicts on field time repeats.
Doing nothing is not an option either, since that causes the field to create workarounds that cannot be converted into a larger enterprise solution for other field organizations. That was the issue in the first place.Thus, the problem is perplexing.
This paper explores two new options that may provide a winning scenario for all in the long run.
Enabling the edge
The field personnel, i.e. those on the edge of the organization, have an astute understanding of the business – or at least, of the problem they face. However, they in general, have less skill in creating a programmatic solution to their problem within the time constraints they have.
However, if a system enables them to create a solution without involving programming, and which is already enterprise requirements compliant, the field would generally be quite willing to incorporate and explore.
It is good for the IT groups, because instead of solving one problem, they have provided a tool that will enable field to solve multiple problems. Once these solutions rise to the level of acceptance that demands a more specific and formal IT support, these can then be brought back under the IT umbrella.
The browser based tool, discussed here, to enable edge to innovate and create solutions in this manner is called Turanto. The IT needs to deploy it exactly once and all edge personnel can build solutions without IT involvement.
Moreover, if IT does need to get involved, they can build complete solutions and deliver results far quickly than through traditional methods and thus keeping the field engaged for valuable requirements and feedback.
Turanto enables data-driven applications (both web and mobile) that can be locally deployed or run from the cloud – without requiring any programming.
The deployment can be linked to 3rd party login solutions (say Facebook or Google), or can be leveraged with Active Directory or Windows Domain login within an enterprise. It boasts a responsive HTML5 UI, complete with users and roles and multi-tenant architecture. The database is standard SQL Server and the code provided is C# (.NET).
The solution is built based using the patterns that the IT department provides (by default industry standard practices and patterns have been included). The business user provides the problem definition. Turanto, the tool, combines the two and creates a solution that can then be used and configured.
The problem of legacy data – to load the large amount of ad-hoc or Excel based data is also solved through the automatically built solution to map external data into internal tables, ensuring it complies with data integrity checks, and then accepting upload.
A sample field built solution that shows just a single screen for a localized Asset Management System is shown below – in the context of a web application as well as a mobile application.
Data integration, to point to data in external systems or to make it available to external systems, are also built in. However, the actual task of integration generally requires IT approval to ensure the patterns are approved and in compliance with internal organization practices.
A large organization can customize these patterns to include internal integration patterns, security practices, and built-in objects (such as “Patient” for HealthCare, or “Inventory” for a manufacturing outfit), so that the prototypes and field solutions already include the custom integration. Turanto already has such integration capability and thus, the custom application is more specific to the end user environment.
Search is another requirement that gets built in automatically to enable complex searching in different areas of the application.
Workflow, or business processes, can also be added to the application with ease.
The applications can be launched and are ready to use at any point of time during discussions. This enables stakeholders to see a working application sooner, so they can provide more complete feedback. In addition, the instant gratification keeps the players engaged in the solution.
With the field enabled to build new solutions, a new level of collaboration and prioritization frequently results.
- With the end user building the solution in a standardized manner, IT frequently takes on an advisory role centered on how to do something, while, business users focus on the data they want to track in the new system. With each group in its element, better collaboration results.
- IT is now perceived as an enabler to provide the field with standardized tools and practices that enable field specific solutions. Thus, field provides more feedback on the patterns desired, which in turn enables them to build more specific solutions.
- Since the solutions are available over the web and on mobile, using the IT specified security and enterprise patterns, other business units are quicker to discover and use the solution for their specific needs.
- With data that would have been buried in manual forms or local MS-Excel spreadsheets is now easily visible and available for analysis. This results in more collaboration and process improvements result.
Formalizing the solution
The field organizations on the edge will most probably have built many disposable solutions to temporary problems. However, there will be some that will clearly see heavy and lasting use and are candidates for IT to step in and formalize.
Also, while the tool generally covers a large percentage of the common requirements, there may still be specifics that have to be programmed in. However, the field modeled solution is architected per the IT and Microsoft recommendations, which makes easier for IT to take control and update.
- It follows .NET 4.5 guidelines, and uses Entity libraries version 6.
- It uses Twitter User Interface libraries for Responsive Layout
- The source code is available as a Visual Studio 2013 solution.
This enables IT to modify as required. Further, the requirements for those modifications would be better understood by the field users, and hence, will take less time to convey. The mileage, of course, varies but the pre-built solution is reasonably close to the desired solution.
Sample Code built by field users without knowing they are building code:
Field users have a good know how of business needs and IT has a great understanding of the technology patterns and practices. By combining these two, Turanto becomes the enabler for the Edge, i.e. the field, to build quick solutions to their specific problems.
This fosters better collaboration between different business units and field personnel, while providing both IT and field with much needed bandwidth and responsiveness. Further, the solution is more compliant with IT standards and hence can be made an enterprise wide solution quicker. The data visibility and analysis resulting from this provides yet another win for the organization as a whole.
Thus, Enabling The Edge, with Turanto, has distinct advantages for both the central IT organization and the users in the field. Innovation at the Edge is now more enabled and can propagate through the organization much faster.