From Bottleneck IT to Business Agility – How Companies Succeed

Nobody wants to talk about business agility anymore. But every modern business needs it. Business agility refers to the ability of companies to adapt quickly to new (business) requirements. Today, however, this adaptability of the business is often limited to the speed of the IT department. Because the requirements are channeled there. We want to show you a proven approach for companies to move from bottleneck IT to business agility.

Business Agility: A look at the pain points

The role of IT has changed dramatically in recent years. IT is more than ever the key enabler for business success – today, in the “digital world”. The only problem is that the IT department is always too slow for the business. It should (and could) be the driver. Thinking of a way out, one could think about:

  • Expansion of IT resources
    This is not very realistic in the tight labor market for IT professionals, especially since a decline in this trend is not in sight.
  • Outsourcing of infrastructure & development
    This allows companies to concentrate on their core business. Although IT is increasingly becoming the core business of companies, this approach makes sense in some cases.
  • Increase the effectiveness of existing resources
    That means reducing process overhead and developing less for the garbage bin.

Many approaches are – at least theoretically – conceivable. In practice, they are thwarted by facts from the real world. What does a typical software development process look like in this real world?

Coupling business and IT in software development results in low business agility
Software development process with a coupling of business and IT

 

As the figure above shows, the problem already exists at the organizational level. Business and IT are linked together. Misunderstandings or ambiguities run through the individual iterations of software development until the correct result is achieved.

A look at the various interfaces between the business analyst’s (business) requirements and their technical implementation shows that software development can be a error-prone process: the more interfaces involved, the more information is lost or interpretated differently.

 

Software development often has many gaps, and thus, sources of error
Interfaces can lead to misunderstandings and errors in software development

 

Decoupling as an architectural approach for business agility

The solution: A suitable architecture enables decoupling at the organizational level, thereby increasing business agility. What does that mean? The business department should be enabled to take over part of the software development process on its own responsibility – namely the business logic.

A software process that decouples business and IT can increase business agility.
Software development with decoupled business and IT

 

Business logic usually changes more often than the process logic or the IT environment and requires a lot of business knowledge. It therefore makes sense to transfer responsibility for business logic to the corresponding domain experts. However, software development is very complex, business-critical and needs to be controlled. So how can business departments be empowered to take on their part in software development? The answer is: By abstraction and a suitable toolset.

Business enablement is already the reality!

In fact, the business enablement approach has long been a reality: Microsoft Excel or WYSIWYG web content management systems are examples of how abstraction and simple tooling can conceal and help manage complexity – even for non-technical users (with a little technical affinity).

Abstraction allows involvement of new user groups

Other examples include Business Rules Management and Decision Management. The two disciplines rely on a graphic approach to define and implement business logic. Visual models, flow rule diagrams and spreadsheet-like decision tables are easy to understand, even for non-IT users. These models are much more transparent than nested conditions using “If-Then” in some application code. At the same time, these graphical models allow the depiction of very complex relationships, such as risk assessments, credit decisions, compliance checks, etc.

The following illustrations show examples of graphical models that are created (and maintained) through business users and that are already a part of the software development process. Example 1 shows how the business requirements of a credit decision are defined (left), and how its business logic is implemented using a decision table (right).

Example 1: Business enablement with the DMN (Decision Model and Notation) standard
Example 1: Business enablement with the DMN (Decision Model and Notation) standard

 

Example 2 below shows the modeling and definition of a pricing logic with a flow rule approach. Such business rules can become very extensive. However, the visual approach helps users to keep the overview and get along quickly. The project tree on the left supports structuring and organizing the business logic used within a project.

Graphical flow rules empower business users.
Example 2: Business enablement with graphical flow rules

 

We summarize: Abstraction makes it possible to involve new user groups (in this case business users) in technical tasks that are usually part of the software development process. Although abstraction is often accompanied by limitations in the scope of functions, the business aspects of a system usually do not require the full power of programming languages.

Suitable toolsets help with IT tasks

Business enablement doesn’t mean that business users are taking over core IT tasks that require a lot of expertise. The business users have nothing to do with technical integration, with complex issues such as concurrency, transactions, reliability, etc. Nevertheless, business enablement goes beyond the mere definition of requirements and business logic. However, in order to achieve true decoupling and thus business agility, the toolsets must also support users beyond modeling: namely when testing, monitoring and deploying their business logic.

Screenshot des Testeditors von ACTICO Modeler: Schadenprüfung im Versicherungsumfeld
Testing a flow rule for insurance claims processing in ACTICO Modeler

 

In practice, the split between business and IT tasks usually varies from project to project. For example, business departments often take on the modeling and testing of “their” business logic, while their IT colleagues oversee quality assurance, deployment, and monitoring.

Conclusion

As IT becomes more and more of a bottleneck and can not handle many business needs quickly enough, business departments should consider which IT tasks can be done autonomously. Consider some of the following questions to identify such tasks:

  • Which aspects of a system or application are business critical?
  • Which aspects are changed frequently (more often than the release cycles of the systems)?
  • Which aspects require special transparency (e.g. compliance requirements)?
  • Does it make sense to maintain these aspects directly in the business department?

With abstraction, a suitable toolset, a little courage and trust, companies can significantly increase business agility. Rare IT professionals can focus on really important topics instead of constantly bothering with new business specifications. Business departments gain more freedom and are able to continuously improve their business without relying on IT. That this approach to business agility promises success, we have already seen in hundreds of projects.

 

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