Thursday, October 18, 2007

Change the business not the package

I've spotted a bit of a worrying trend around SOA and package delivery namely that people seem to be thinking that SOA magically means that you can now customise packages safely. The goal becomes once again "fit the package to the business" this unfortunately is the road to ruin. It doesn't matter what the package is, whether Finance, ERP, niche or even a small off the shelf thing for a point solution the basic rule remains the same. You are going package because it doesn't differentiate you, it isn't an area where you will gain competitive advantage and if everyone in your sector ran the same package, it really wouldn't matter.

This is a critical starting point. If you want to use a package solution you have to accept that this means you have chosen to take a non-differentiated route. If your content is the thing that is your USP then this doesn't mean that you shouldn't use a CMS it just means you should recognise that it is the content that is the USP, not the publishing and managing of the content.

Too often people go through extensive requirements gathering before selecting a package and then try and find the "best fit" to those requirements. The project kicks off and they try and implement the remaining requirements. This is suicide, don't do it.

First off start with a set of objectives and principles that will guide the package selection. One of these principles must be that the goal will be to change the business approach to fit the selected package. Then choose the package. The next state is then to ask "how can I cope with what the package does" this leads to the understanding of what business change can be done.

So how does SOA help in this process? Well first off you can use a Business Service Architecture to understand the drivers and interactions at a high level, this really helps to clarify where the package will be used and to make clear the broad business context in which it fits. So if you are looking at packages across multiple areas you should still be thinking about the different areas based on their different business context and drivers, one size doesn't fit all.

So SOA doesn't mean that you can customise the package anymore today that you could before. There is a rough calculation that I've seen a few times around package implementations (the numbers vary a bit but the thought is important)

So basically the more you customise the more likely you are to fail. Now while it looks okay down the bottom end, don't be fooled.

Now these aren't hard and fast numbers, indeed they could be under playing the impact of customisation.

SOA doesn't help in terms of package customisation. A decent BSA can help you understand how the package will work (if at all) and the boundaries that it will have, but the same rules on customising the box remain.

There is however a new choice when it comes to adding differentiation into a business service which is partly implemented using a package.... but not in this post.

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dbjstein said...


I think this is exactly right, and I was very glad to see it as I've been trying to socialize the idea that buying a package is a COMMITMENT! It's not something to be done by preference because it gets you most of the way to your requirements, because it will necessarily not adapt well.
A corollary to your point, which that you didn't touch on but which is extremely important, is that you shouldn't buy a package that you CAN'T accommodate. For example, in my industry (financial services) companies buy extremely complex, core engines that handle an extraordinary quantity of primary business functionality. But the business has long since settled into a multitude of idiosyncratic products, processes, object models etc. So it can't possibly adapt to a product of this kind - it must customize it extensively, and continue to evolve the customizations forever. A very gloomy path to take.

Appreciate your thoughts about this.


Steve Jones said...

Completely agree. The number of people who con themselves (and I mean con) that they can have the best of both worlds is very depressing.

If you are buying a package its because it doesn't differentiate you, therefore you should be aiming to commodity and standardisation of your business towards that commodity.

To rephrase the NRA

Packages don't change companies, people change companies.

James Taylor said...

Blogged a quick response here.
James Taylor
The Smart (Enough) Systems blog
My ebizQ blog
Author of Smart (Enough) Systems