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Unified application architecture as the instrument of change

One of the top priorities for IT directors in 2017 is to enable rapid change within their organizations.

Switching from several dedicated applications, which are difficult to maintain and problematic, to a single no-code, quick-response platform may prove to be crucial for companies.

According to Gartner’s 2016 “CIO Agenda” survey among IT directors, over 2500 brands from 93 countries will spend a total of $292 billion on IT. According to the report, the top organizations that participated in the study tripled their digital processes over the last two years. By 2018, these processes will double again. Gartner calls this the building of a digital ecosystem.

However, in the age of digital transformation, it is important not only to digitize data and processes, but to do it right. Many companies need to examine their portfolio of applications implemented in recent years and determine what consequences the maintenance thereof will have for their business. They also need to consider whether it is possible – or even necessary – to optimize their existing application architecture.

Will IT step up to the challenge?

IT departments often have to deal with complicated life situations. For example, three people are hired to maintain and develop thirty different business applications and naturally, they divide the tasks by each taking ten. This system could work as long as one of them doesn’t take a longer vacation. In such a case, the company has a problem, because every application is different, and requires certain skills. As a result, the remaining employees will not only have on their minds the applications they already know, but ten more about which they have no clue.

Maintaining such a system involves thirty contracts with thirty vendors, thirty SLA payments, and thirty different people to work with in developing each application. Furthermore, the end users have to deal with thirty different application interfaces. Finally, there comes a moment where we need to figure out if there is a way out of this situation.

Unification instead of liquidation

The gut reaction of many companies is to get rid of some of their applications in order to save on maintenance and development. The problem is that this is not always possible, because if applications work, they are usually used by employees. But, there is another way: a homogeneous application environment of Rapid Application Development and Business Process Management platforms. It unites overly complicated application architecture within a company, but that’s not all.

Above all, single platform means standardization. A company can use 30 applications simultaneously, but the IT department can maintain them via one hardware system. All it needs is one set of skills, regardless of what each application is responsible for, as all of them are built on the same platform. The IT department also gains more flexibility with regard to human resources. It is very easy to introduce a new person to the system – for example, to oversee maintenance and development during the absence of another team member – since RAD/BPM platforms most often allow delivery of applications without coding.
Second of all, a company cooperates with only one vendor, or interchangeably, with just a few. There is only one maintenance agreement, one server, and a single hardware platform where the whole environment can be developed.

One platform to rule them all

RAD/BPM platforms have now matured enough to become a real alternative to creating dedicated applications – not only secondary applications with little business significance, but also business critical ones. Until now, this has been unthinkable. Just 5 years ago, critical solutions were dedicated solutions, period. But today, essential applications can be built using a unified platform.

Data reusability is also very important. Almost 30 years ago, ERP systems began to appear. These systems were integrated in the sense that businesses received a connected system instead of separate modules for finances, personnel, sales, and storage, which were completely independent and did not “communicate” with each other. All the user had to do was to register a contractor in one module to be able to use the same data in another. This prevented redundant physical data, as well as business activities related to its administration, maintenance, and reuse. The exact same thing is happening now in the context of application platforms. Thanks to RAD/BPM, we no longer have to deal with dozens of independent islands that need to be integrated through tedious bridge building. Instead, we have one system which allows data to be used in different business processes after being entered only once. And it’s becoming easier than ever.

Flexibility above all

Unification of a company’s application environment also entails significant improvements in terms of strategic operations, which is the main goal of implementing Corporate Architecture. Because RAD/BPM platforms are low-code applications, some of them offer great flexibility in change management. This allows companies to easily adapt their business applications to their evolving needs. When a new business model emerges, along with the necessity to change the application serving the previous model, a company can deliver this new solution very quickly. And this means not a couple months of work, but rather a few weeks, or even days. That’s all it takes to build new applications, or completely change those currently in operation. As a result, a company gains more control over its business, better coordination of activities, and the full range of information needed to make critical business decisions – all in one place, all in one click.

From the business perspective, this is the preparation we need for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The article was published in Computerworld (originally in Polish).

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