One of my overworked colleagues was recently asked about a project that hadn’t yet gotten off the ground. He replied, “That’s a strategic issue, and right now we only have time for operational issues.” PricewaterhouseCoopers is convinced we won’t be able to separate the two for much longer.
In the consulting firm’s latest Technology Forecast (once a book-length publication which has morphed into an online quarterly), the most intriguing comment on the industry’s future is PricewaterhouseCooper’s concept of an “intelligent business performance platform,” or IBPP. Such a system would combine both business intelligence software (the strategic) with business process management and business rules management (the operational), all integrated and running on top of a company’s IT infrastructure. It’s not going out on too much of a limb to suggest disparate enterprise business applications might one day consolidate into something more cohesive, but PwC is drawing the big picture that the rest of us can use as a blueprint.
“Fortunately, BPM and BI technologies can be implemented slowly,” the report adds. “They are not rip-and-replace solutions but approaches that can be added incrementally to an IT infrastructure and serve as targets for the migration of existing business processes at a pace determined by the company’s need for business process efficiency.”
The IBPP could help explain, for starters, where the next wave of software mergers and acquisitions might lead. It makes sense, for example, that the major BI players have all been gobbled up by the companies that are also dipping their toes or own a piece of the BPM and business rules space, like SAP and IBM. For those that remain – companies like Appian, Workpoint, Idiom and Informavores, to name a few – their destiny is probably to follow in the footsteps of business rules firm Ilog, which was bought by Big Blue last week.
IBPPs could also provide the justification for a service-oriented architecture. According to PwC’s Technology Forecast, you could create such a system without one, but it certainly helps. “(It) works best when rigid, proprietary, command-and-control workflows are migrated to flexible, open, standards-based Web services,” the report says.
At the risk of getting a little carried away, PwC goes on to suggest IBPPs may need their own specific operator, which it has chosen to call a chief performance officer (CPO). No, I don’t think the title will catch on, but read the job description: “The CPO is in charge of consolidating, analyzing, and presenting analyses to senior management and to the board regarding the current state of companywide operations and identifying where performance deviates from expectations and from industry benchmarks. In addition, the CPO has responsibility for designing and helping implement key performance indicators for a given business within the context of a specific industry.”
Does this sound like a glorified business analyst, or is it what IT managers and CIOs are supposed to want to be once they grow up? I’m not really in the business of forecasting, but I’d say that if your company ever runs on something that looks like a IBPP, the IT department had better be the one driving it.