Connecting processes, systems, data and your car, Written by Gregory Shumaker
In my thirty plus years in management and system integration consulting, I’ve found the use of car analogies can aid folks in understanding relationships in other areas, since almost everyone loves their car. I was recently asked by an automotive company in the Southeast, why critical process and system integration are both key for enabling business analytics.
So here comes the automotive to business analogy from a process / IT system integration consultant with careers in the auto industry and big four consulting, who happens to love the dynamics of the automotive industry. Businesses have critical processes, software systems, data, and management reporting. These can be related to a car, if you think of the various vehicle functions, such as an ignition system, as comparable to a critical business process, like fulfillment.
The ignition system, among others, depends on the battery/electrical storage system, just like the fulfillment process depends on the procurement process. There are dozens of critical vehicle systems that must be engineered together in an integrated design that considers all the driver’s functional requirements, safety, and durability for the vehicle.
Critical business processes need the same level of engineering to work together at critical integration points. Otherwise, the business process functions, just like the vehicle functions, do not perform well, or in some cases have failure points, or a “walk home” defect, as known in the auto industry.
So what about the systems that support the vehicle and the business? Each critical vehicle function has an electronic control module where data flows to monitor and drive the vehicle and driver response. Likewise, application and operating system software support the business process transactions, which are sources for business intelligence that drives management decisions. Some decision/actions are automatically performed and some require business analytic analysis to enable a management decision before action.
In business, the processes can be linked together through use of an integrated system supporting integrated processes, such as an ERP application or through interfaces connecting separate systems. Interfaced systems however, require common data standards and architecture across the enterprise processes to avoid transactional errors, costly and time-consuming error fixes/ reconciliation, manual intervention, and rework.
The integrating factor in the car, besides the system design, is the data and functional standards that the controlling systems are designed around to integrate across the vehicle functions. Variations to the functional standards show up in vehicle gages or can be picked up by tools like On Board Diagnostics (OBDII) that plug into the electrical system.
For businesses, where the processes are less visible, use of Business Analytics driven from the transactional data, can provide the “gages” through tailored dashboards for critical process and business performance metrics. Just like the driver and the service technician can make informed decisions on the car, management can make more timely and data-driven decisions to improve business process quality / throughput, capability, and results through use of business analytics.
Just like the car, business processes, software systems, data, and reporting (business analytics) have to be designed to integrate together to enable the critical cross functions of the business. It’s not easy, however it is achievable, the proof being in your daily drive to work or school!