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Live from IMPACT – Customer Panel on Driving Alignment


After the keynote it is back to the other end of the MGM Grand to attend a customer panel on business/IT alignment. Amy Wohl is the host and she blogs here. BTW I may not finish the whole session as I have to go sign the book at the bookstore at the show. I am back on the Verizon broadband as the network is so bad (did I mention how much I love my Verizon broadband card?). The panelist, besides Amy, are:

  • Randy Wallace of Michelen
  • Raul Zambrano of the UNDP
  • Austin Waldron of Health Care Services Coropration
  • Jeff Auker of The Hartford

Amy started off talking about her perspective which tends to start with a technology when it is really out there. SOA, for instance, came about as more and more web services started to develop and the need for an overall architectural approach become clear. Watching the development of SOA so that we can have terms to describe it to the business while also having intensely technical sessions on doing very complex things with it.

Randy from Michelin spoke first. One of their big challenges is B2B with lots of billers to interface directly in their order management systems so, for instance, allow dealers to integrate orders with Michelin. They are currently evolving their order to cash system using Process Server and SOA.

Raul from UNDP – the development program at the UN – is clearly not an enterprise but an agency that supports developing country governments. He is promoting e-government activities in those countries and sees SOA as a building block for integration and rapid development of new systems.
Austin from HCSC spoke earlier in the keynote. Their focus is on using SOA in legacy modernization where many disparate systems are being replaced by a unified set of shared services. The governance issues seem to have been key for HCSC.

Jeff from The Hartford, a well established business rules adopter BTW, talked about challenge of consumer front-ends. Consumers working directly with The Hartford now expect a much more interactive online experience for sales and service – this is being driven by GEICO and Progressive’s campaigns. SOA is key because they have some front-ends that are tightly integrated with very old back-ends and SOA let’s them decouple them. Reuse of everything they build is becoming more key because, for instance, the client site cannot have abilities than those the agents and call centers have. Any new feature must be shared across these different channels.

Amy’s first question was about how the panelists chose which business process to work on next. Randy’s response was that the technology age/usability currently used, the business value of improvements and the reusability of the process all play into the decision. If something can be reused in the future, that gets a bonus. Austin added that sometimes there are other drivers when a system is being updated for some other reasons and making services now makes sense or it might reduce subsequent maintenance work. Jeff’s approach is driven more from the demand of consumers how that translates into core capabilities. Raul’s experience is that time to deploy is often critical, combined with a more democratic/policy-driven decision. Opposition for common approaches in governments where agencies have historically controlled data and processes themselves can be intense.

Next was a question about alignment. Randy discussed how far they had come from having a very small percentage of IT spend aligned with key business goals (6%) to one that is much more so (81%). For instance, in the past business units in different regions picked i2 and Manugistics at the same time and both were implemented resulting in separate systems. A stronger governance process and overall architecture are now established, driven by business ambitions and regularly updated. Far fewer and more focused projects as a result. Senior executive user satisfaction has risen steadily.

Austin also talked about moving closer to having the business plans and goals being the drivers for IT. They had some years of IT spend focused more on basic IT infrastructure (security, robustness etc) but now investments much more driven by the business strategy. Still suffer from shadow IT organizations, as do many other organizations says Amy. Austin feels this is something on which they continue to work.

Amy’s next question was around business componentization – how to get folks to work with you to revamp legacy applications. Jeff talked about having some fairly visible failures resulting from heavy customization of packaged applications to implement specific business processes. Big legacy modernization and remediation projects are causing them to get much more serious about process maps, business architecture, BPM etc. Have some mandates to get some of these big, expensive applications out but it is hard to do as they are linked to everything and hard to move. The pain is what gives energy to the change.

Austin reiterated his experience where they had bought packages, customized them to death and found themselves out on their own. Looking to be more normal and more able to use standard components – presumably by focusing on specific services that must be custom while using others.

Jeff also found that once a library of services exists then others, who really want something customized, say “that looks good enough” and will adopt it. Austin agreed, saying that they have got smarter about pushing back on requirements and trying to find the ones that really matter so as to avoid the “last 10% costs 50%” problem. Amy feels, and I more or less agree, that the “good enough” web applications consumers use has driven this.

Well I have to go and get ready to sign books….


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