In a recent study conducted by Forrester Consulting “Enterprise Cloud: Lessons Learned From Early Adopters” a key conclusion made is “A complete, application-centric, business-aware cloud solution is needed.” Let’s say that your C-level executive stops by your office and asks you to lead a project to develop a business-aware cloud solution. To be successful it is important to understand what you are building. In the following blog I will attempt to define a business-aware cloud solution.
Defining a Business-Aware Cloud Solution
Your project objective is to develop a business-aware cloud solution. As you are a competent project manager one of the first areas you want to define is the project scope. As your humble project assistant, I have searched the internet for you and have leverage greater minds from the University of Edinburgh:
“What different employers mean when they talk about business awareness varies, however their views broadly fall into two areas: (1) understanding an occupation, and (2) understanding the business environment.”
What is Business-Awareness?
I would like to elaborate upon on this definition with the following model.
There are three key areas that enable business awareness. The business process area includes the business functions, related-activities, and the individual tasks that must be performed in order to generate the desired business results. The business role(s) area includes the concatenation (grouping) of business activities into responsibilities that can be competently accomplished. Finally, business awareness also requires an understanding how an industry operates and how it is influenced by local, national and global economics.
Now, your experience as a project manager tells you that a well-defined project scope statement not only explains the end result but also elaborates on what is considered out of scope. With this best practice in mind let us clearly articulate on some areas that may misalign the focus on business.
Please allow me to elaborate. A business function is a necessary structure resulting in a concatenation of activities/tasks that aligns with the skills/experiences of the organization to best support business processes. The ERP software industry started as discrete, functional applications that continue to evolve into enterprise-wide, business process solutions. In general, software applications focus more on business functions requiring the implementation of multiple applications to support an entire business process. As a veteran project manager, you understand that an application focus may result in gold-plating or poor support of functional hand-offs (integration). You also appreciate that technology is only one component of a business solution.
We are halfway to having a better understanding of our project objective. Now, let’s focus on what some may consider the mystical realm of the cloud.
What is a Cloud Solution?
Forgive my “tongue-in-cheek” response above but it is hard to define a clear picture given the varied information available in the marketplace. Once again, I refer to brighter minds (NIST) to provide a definition.
“Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”
I would like to focus on what’s not in this definition that may be perceived expectations of moving business software to the cloud
The immediate, short-term savings will be reduction in capital expenditures required for IT infrastructure requirements. As correctly pointed out in the book “Cloud Computing – Assessing the Risks“, there is a general misnomer that there is a risk reduction with the cloud. There is a transference of risk from the IT organization to the Cloud Provider. Technology results (reliability, response, availability, scalability) may lead to business benefits – but it is not a guarantee.
Now that we have a little better understanding of project objective, let’s briefly review the role that the key enablers will play in the implementation of a business-aware cloud solution.
Enablers for a Business-Aware Cloud Solution
As a competent project manager, you know that the project must address all three components of a solution in order to be successful in meeting all expectations. For the sake of brevity we will only focus on a key expectation for each component.
- People: People innovate. People accept. People resist. People ultimately drive project success.
- Process: Innovation is a process and not just a brainstorming event. IT needs to move up the business value chain with a rapid, iterative delivery method. Governance is not an acceptable substitute for properly educating users on the effective use of cloud technology.
- Technology: A reasonable expectation is to select a cloud vendor that provides a reliable, secure, scalable IT infrastructure solution on par (or better) than existing services. For business software like ERP to be business-aware, the software must have access to business model, roles, and rule metadata that is maintained by business users.
Summary – Are We There Yet?
Do all the technical components exist in the marketplace today to build a business-aware cloud solution? Technically speaking, the answer is yes if you want to seamlessly integrate multiple technical components with multiple UI experiences, data sources, and training requirements. Will it be a practical and viable solution? I suspect that there is room for improvement. If you wait for a complete solution then it may be too late for your business users. But you are not just a project manager, you are a project leader! You know that this effort is a project program with iterative projects that incrementally build upon the individual project results. Start planning, start delivering!
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