People-centric IT for a new decade

You could call it people-oriented architecture: democratization of IT that puts computing power in the hands of users and lets them get a job done without having to adapt their processes to the way the technology works.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

Continuing my review of emerging trends that are going to be big in 2010, here's one that I suspect will be a defining theme for IT throughout the coming decade. In one of my favorite postings of 2009 back in September, I called this trend The democratization of IT. Developing those thoughts over the past few days on my ebizQ blog, I picked the term People-Oriented Architecture, which of course is a play on a more familiar technology term:

"I've used the term people-oriented architecture to make a deliberate contrast with our experience of service-oriented architecture in the past decade. Unlike SOA — which too often sought to remake the way that computers talk to one another without any reference to or consideration of user needs and business results — people-oriented architectures have to be developed collaboratively and iteratively with users and business owners, giving them as much freedom and autonomy as possible to control and manage information and processes to achieve the results they want. It's an acknowledgement that people are both the commanding providers and the ultimate end consumers of any of the services in a computing architecture."

Another way of looking at this is to agree with blogging colleague and SOA maven Joe McKendrick that SOA is moving into a low-key "roll-up-your-sleeves-and-make-the-stuff-work stage", while the business and user context comes to the fore. As an ebizQ reader commented, calling it people-oriented architecture is to use same technology jargon that has kept IT apart from the users, who just want to get on with it and don't care what it's called.

Of course it's been the Web that has been instrumental in putting computing power in the hands of users in a way that lets them get a job done without having to become computing experts. Many of the trends I write about, including cloud computing, software-as-a-service and enterprise 2.0, are at the forefront of bringing the same access to computing power into the enterprise environment. This is a highly disruptive process on all fronts, but I think the biggest pressure points surround the more controversial fusion of social computing and enterprise applications that comprise enterprise 2.0. Many people are uncomfortable about using the word 'social' in an enterprise context, but I made the opposite case in a post in November:

"... you can't erase the human dimension out of the enterprise altogether. Ultimately, it's the people that assess risks, do deals, manage change, take decisions and earn the rewards of success (or carry the can for failure). Corporate management and business itself are essentially social activities in that they depend on interactions between people. That's why computing has to evolve to become social — to become people-centric instead of merely machine-centric ... Enterprise 2.0 is technology that seeks to eliminate many of the inefficiencies that get in the way of productive interaction and collaboration, automating social processes in the same way that earlier generations of computing automated data processing."

That's not to say enterprise 2.0 is an instant cure-all. People-centric IT only makes sense if it empowers people to achieve results. This is exactly what Dennis Howlett cautioned about in his blog post yesterday, Enterprise 2.0: Totally Unacceptable: "... of itself and even with technology adopted, you gain nothing of substance without context and process. All you gain is more content ... What we have so far is content and some context. We're missing process strategically designed to achieve business goals."

I believe we're at a breakthrough point precisely because technology has matured to the point that it's flexible enough to be adapted to what the people who use it are trying to achieve — to empower them to refine the automation and processes that help them fulfil their roles as effectively as possible. We no longer have to ask people to change their processes to fit in with the demands of punch card runs or application stovepipes or implementation and upgrade cycles. We now have information technology that's sophisticated enough to fit in with how human beings work and behave, and that's why people-centric IT is a defining theme for the new decade, requiring information technologists to develop new skills and ways of working that deliver results the people demand.

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