From the Inside January/February 2015

We've covered this in the past, but not recently. It's been a while since I've even given it much thought, or discussed it here. It's something many businesses use unconsciously when evaluating new software or changing their existing business software: The Business Application Paradigm.

The core concepts of the Paradigm are:

  • Business Applications are large, very large, or very, very large.
  • Business Applications are magnitudes of order more complex than academic computing class assignments.
  • Business Applications are long-lived - 10, 20, and 30 year-old applications are common.
  • Business Applications are dynamic - They grow in complexity, and evolve well beyond the original design and specification requirements.
  • Business Applications are critical - They must be stable at high volume and capacity. If applications ABEND they must be fixable, and restart-able under duress.
  • Business Computing Architectures evolve and change.
  • Business comes first - Technology for technology's sake is not good business.
  • Business projects will be understaffed and overworked, both on the IT side and on the business side.
  • Millions of business programmers are needed to meet worldwide business application development requirements.
  • Business project teams change - Individuals responsible for writing applications rarely are the ones who maintain and support them in production.
  • IT departments are unique - No two shops employ the same methods/standards/practices in development, maintenance, and support of production code.
  • Production requirements rule IT. If production systems fail or do not handle the monthly changes in business, IT will drop everything to address the problem, significantly killing momentum on new projects, and hamstringing the implementation of new technologies.

Many of these points will likely resonate with you, whether or not this is your first time hearing them. Having the paradigm spelled out may clarify some of what you are seeing and doing in your current enterprise applications.

There are no clear solutions, or a single silver bullet, to address all of these points at once. Business applications need to make trade-offs between the requirements of day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year business changes, on the one hand and the need to keep pace with emerging technologies on the other. There is a reason why many companies are still using green screens that were developed 20 or 30 years ago.

The same reasons explain why many companies are always three to five years behind the latest technologies, or do not plan to implement the new technologies in the near future unless something forces them.

However, there is a relatively recent change to how people think about and use technologies. It's going to throwing a wrench into this Paradigm. And we need to be ready for it.

User Interfaces (UI) and User Experience (UX) expectations have shifted and grown exponentially in the last year or so. This is not the same as in the past, where the main change to software and technology has been from one specific interface to another specific interface.

First, Windows wanted users to move to GUI desktop applications. Businesses could take or leave that. Then the web came along, and it seemed that everyone needed a website. Again, businesses could take or leave it, but as new hardware started to come into play, the website and web interfaces became more important, turning it into requirements. However, this was only a small, well-defined section of the overall business software.

Since developing an alternative presentation could be isolated into one aspect of doing business, companies were willing to create the interfaces needed, but the remaining 90% of the software stayed the same.

Mobile and Tablet interfaces grew from the websites and web interfaces into something all their own, but many business are still trying to decide if this is required.

These interfaces helped replace some of the older hand-held data collection devices, but those devices only had a specific purpose, much like the websites. Again, the core 80% to 90% of the software was not affected.

Now comes the shift in software development from User Interfaces (GUI, web, mobile app, etc.) to User Experience, which does not use one specific technology, but instead focuses on the way we use our data in all of the available technologies.

This shift will throw a wrench into your everyday Line-Of-Business applications and the Paradigm which is used to maintain them. Since the User Experience approach doesn't mandate a specific technology, you might think I'm saying, "use the green screen application and you will be okay." That is not quite correct.

User Experience is all about providing the user the ability to enter and modify information in any environment and with any tool they choose. It is about empowering the user to get their job done, but it is NOT about dictating to the user the best way in which to do this.

If a user decides that Excel is the best way to get data into the system, then give them that option. If a Mobile device is the best way for a user to access and update information, then that is what they should be able to use.

If a user is away from their desk, then what is the best experience for them? The one they want to use.

If a user is at their desk, what is the best experience for them? The one they want to use .

For Line-Of-Business applications to survive, they must provide more than one way to get the same information into the system. Our systems must be able to adapt to the user and the user requirement, rather than us telling the user to adapt to them.

One of the main reasons that most upper management has always pushed for GUIs, or some kind of GUI interface, like dashboards and drill-down reports, is because they want to access the data when, where, and how they are familiar. It has never really been about the "pretty interfaces" and "mouse" or "touch" entry, but about how easy it is to access that information.

Line-Of-Business software needs to evolve beyond UI thinking and into UX thinking. More and more application companies will come to your management to try to sell them their UX - and many will succeed - unless you can provide some of the basics that a good UX requires.

Join me at my Welcome Address at the Spectrum 2015 Conference this year where I will be more talking about this.


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Jan/Feb 2015