'Don't automate, obliterate'

Hammering away outmoded processes

There's been a lot of talk lately about automating all the business processes we can get our hands on, seen as the path to getting rid of expensive human labor, and therefore productivity extraordinaire.

But, what exactly are we automating? Vinnie Mirchandani writes a lot about keeping technology focused on the business at hand, and provides this interesting analogy in a recent post:

"Business processes are arteries, highways, rivers. They keep corporations and cities running - but need to be kept clean of different types of 'plaque.' They periodically need dredging and angioplasty."

Mirchandani is a proponent of small, sharply focused and creative deployments -- something large enterprise projects are not. "Technology is like cholesterol - the good kind and not so good kind," he writes. First, we have all the ERP, supply chain management, and CRM stuff, sucking up millions of dollars and staff time. Then enterprises added security layers to the technology, followed by all the requirements of compliance mandates.  We have processes managing processes.

"We have clogged various processes with four types of 'plaque,'" Mirchandani writes. "Questionable technology, people costs tied to that technology, over-zealous security and opportunistic compliance."

As companies move into the Web services and service-oriented architecture realm, they run the risk of padding more layers of interfaces and processes on top of the systems already in place.  Web services and SOA are about simplification, not more complexity, not baking calcified processes deeper into the organization.

Mirchandani draws from Michael Hammer's words from more than a decade ago: "Don't Automate, Obliterate." These words still ring true.