The new role of IT – from Cost Center to Business Platform Provider

I had started off my career with some core business application development & support on Visual Basic. Before that I had done some bit on Clipper (remember?) and Visual FoxPro. Then, I had this enriching experience of implementing a Payments Processing system for multiple clients where we weren’t allowed to touch code! It was a completely configuration driven metadata based system, written in Delphi.

Then, for the next 4 years I was deep into the core programming languages (C, C++, and Java when it started) while we were developing a platform for core applications & network monitoring & management, equivalent of an HPOV or IBM Tivoli. We were, that time (around 2003), talking about Autonomic computing and how virtualization (the word in those days!) would sometime be the norm. We were creating a product suite that was ambitious in the sense that the whole application management infrastructure would be self-healing and auto-scaling. Ambitious that time, because the underlying infrastructure was still just coming together. We did create the product and looking back, I can only appreciate that vision.

Autonomic Computing (courtesy IBM)

And then I had a long stint with BPM (which within me still continues to live as a thought process – from tools/products, to discipline of process management, to technological convergence (still in progress), to hard core practices on running BPM projects &  governance thereof). While BPM initiatives still continue to toy back & forth between “the fast, iterative , singles-and-doubles approach” and “ambitious, long-drawn, home-run attempts”, some aspects of BPM styled projects standout nevertheless. Here are some of the critical success factors:

  • The decoupling of the technical infrastructure track and the process / application development
  • Modeling driven, “visual” and configuration driven process development over shared-serviced-platform as against a vertically integrated application development project
  • Ability for IT teams to stick to project governance and platform delivery and facilitating the business to focus on process management and governance.
  • Strong support for the Enterprise architecture at strategy and governance level

I had earlier written about how BPM CoEs and various flavors are expected to provide the soft-support over the platform to deliver the BPM promises. BPM platforms, however, provide the ability to go back and forth between the technology driven implementation and the business driven projects. Too much control offered on underlying wiring, and you need seasoned practitioners.

On platforms front, there’s a key progress which is striking to the seeing eyes, but still not noticed widely. Most people understand the infrastructure story on Cloud computing. However, Platforms-as-a-Service (PaaS) is going to be a norm when businesses start exploiting the huge advantage that it offers – the ability to decouple the Platform Engineering, Platform Governance and Platform Implementation.

Applications PaaS (APaaS, as Gartner refers to it as A Step to ‘Killer App’) provides the visual and modeling driven capability for applications development. It is offered as a service, hence decouples the platform engineering from application development as a model. It is also, interestingly, a High-Productivity paradigm that enables a rapid and business oriented application development (as against High Control Paradigm of General Purpose PaaS that ties in app development rigidly to IT).

This is where I see all the dots connecting – Visual Basic or MS Access style of development, Cloud based Platforms-as-a-Service that is modeling driven and autonomic as a platform, Business Value driven BPM style projects that enable focus on Business Value.

So, looks like we have the technological ingredients for the “White collar developers” or “citizen developers” to develop the applications while core IT can focus on the delivery and governance over underlying platforms. While I still see that IT will, for some time to come, control the buying and maintenance of such platforms, the key to their success also lies in the understanding that they need to focus on the role of platform Engineering and Governance, and facilitate the business value driven applications development. Many forward thinking organizations already understand this difference and those are the ones that are (already or on the way to) reaping the benefits of such platforms.

IT can, driven by APaaS, become a Business Platform Provider and facilitate Business Value, and move beyond being Cost Center.


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  1. #1 by Ian Gotts on April 7, 2011 - 4:47 am

    Only if the business users decide to include IT…. The concern of the CIO is the Stealth Cloud – cloud apps (inluding dev platforms like which are used without the permission, support or guidance of IT.

  2. #2 by Ashish Bhagwat on April 7, 2011 - 5:13 am

    Ian, I agree that is a concern. Many such stealth applications that you touched upon already exist – we call them Long tail Apps, but they are not even on a single platform at this time. ( With APaaS, there’s at least a technological enabler to do that. And that is where a governance model driven toward such business facilitation (and not toward all-done-by-IT-based-on-biz-needs) is needed. The part of the problem is that IT in most organizations doesn’t even realize that such a model is possible and they keep asking for control over everything in apps space.

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