It's hard for most IT workers to look ahead. The day-to-day requirements of keeping enterprise systems up and running efficiently and ensuring a happy user base is one huge challenge.
Yet, as Forrester Research analyst Sharyn Leaver notes in a recent report, many of these same people point to "a lack of insight into future trends as an inhibitor to their effectiveness and development."
In her "Five Trends That Will Shape The Business Process" report, Leaver and her team detail the five most significant trends in the business process and applications space for 2008. They include: Dynamic Business Applications; Web 2.0 and tech populism; software-as-a-service (SaaS); business process centers of excellence (COEs); and the evolving business analyst role.
Here, with Leaver's explanations, are why these will be so important:
Dynamic business applications
"Globalisation, rapid market change, a changing workforce and regulations have turned the desire for more agile and usable applications into a business imperative," Leaver writes. "As a result, process and applications professionals are on the hook to deliver more of these applications," which Forrester calls Dynamic Business Applications. She says that Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and IBM are helping by delivering more flexible cross-functional applications, "but legacy architectures, entrenched business models, maintenance and support requirements, and licensing constructs will limit how far these vendors go."
As such, Leaver contends that in 2008 more and more business process and applications staffers will consider targeted apps from smaller application vendors as well as business process management (BPM) suites to complement their large application investments and offer flexibility in areas where competitive differentiation matters most-such as in customer service or product management.
Web 2.0 and tech populism
It's not surprising to hear that consumer technology used by people at home and outside the office will continue to find its way into the workplace. Five years from now, however, Leaver envisions that employers will have difficulty dictating to many employees what technologies they can, and will, use on the job.
"Employees are already bringing in their own mobile devices, and intercompany collaboration is already taking hold through third-party services like Facebook, LinkedIn, Second Life and Wikipedia," Leaver writes.
"Business process owners of externally facing areas like recruiting and sales will embrace Web 2.0 tools to increase their business impact. Meanwhile, more business process and applications professionals will tap into the tech populism movement to open doors for better collaboration between business and IT."
It's well-known that many SaaS devotees have reduced the effort and cost required to obtain new enterprise software features because, with SaaS, they pay a subscription fee based on time and usage and avoid infrastructure investments, Leaver notes. Vendors like NetSuite, RightNow Technologies and Salesforce.com "have spearheaded customers' use of software without having to implement it in their data centers, and several software vendors have followed," she writes.
So what's new for SaaS in 2008? "Vendors like Salesforce.com now offer highly flexible architectures, so the tradeoff between cost and flexibility is fading," Leaver says. "Plus, the largest app vendors are finally getting into the game-the latest being SAP's new Business ByDesign offering. The result is that more business process and applications professionals will embrace SaaS for key 'edge' processes like sales, talent management and procurement, and some will even consider SaaS for more core apps like human resource management systems."
Business process COEs
"It's no surprise that organisations are looking to business process initiatives to improve their customer-facing and back-office processes, and many see new BPM technology as the panacea to their process standardisation and innovation problems," Leaver writes. "But individual lines of business often don't see the benefits of collaborating with other lines of business. This means that business process and applications professionals with cross-functional knowledge and BPM technology know-how will have a golden opportunity to expand their influence and increase their visibility."
But just how do they do that? According to Leaver: By spearheading BPM COEs, "which provide expertise around BPM technology, a common project methodology, and a method to store reusable process assets to reduce rework."
The evolving business analyst role
"The advent of Dynamic Business Applications and business process excellence initiatives will further complicate the already hard-to-define business analyst role," Leaver notes. "Business-oriented business analysts will need more IT skills, and IT-oriented business analysts will need more business acumen. Expect a concerted effort by business process and applications leaders - as well as CIOs - in 2008 to communicate the strategic nature of the business analyst role and assess their current inventory of business analysts."
She also writes that we will see "more descriptive and distinguished titles like process architect and information architect attached to much clearer development road maps and career paths."