Our conversation continues about the optimal mix of technology to support business process. In our last TechWise blog,“Living IT, QuickBase Leads The Way”, we discussed the concept of Living IT and why organizations should plan for changing and dynamic technology. To elaborate further on this topic we want to introduce some ideas around what we refer to as the the Application Ecosystem and how technologies such as PaaS and ETL fit in.
The Application Ecosystem of an organization is a broad way to refer to the various technology tools that the organization uses. This applies to government, for-profit and non-profit organizations. At the center of the Application Ecosystem is what we refer to as Core Systems. These tools are typically associated with basic organizational functions required for accounting and transactional purposes. For smaller businesses, tools like QuickBooks or PeachTree are the frequent choice while larger organizations have mostly deployed ERP systems like Oracle ERP or SAP.
While accounting and ERP systems have expanded to include broader functionality few if any organizations are able to function with a single technology to manage business processes. This is due to the fact that ERP and Accounting systems are designed fir best practices and with transaction management as the primary focus with process management flexibility given limited attention. This means that organizations are pushed to find technologies that complement and extend core systems. We refer to the multitude of applications that support defined and ad hoc organizational processes outside the core systems as the Extension Layer.
The Extension Layer
There are two basic types of applications in the Extension Layer, Point Solutions and Situational Applications. Point Solutions are specialized, typically best of breed applications that solve a specific and typically well defined need. Image management, warehouse management and CRM are areas that often are targeted for point solutions. The other type of application in the Extension Layer is often referred to as Situational Applications. These are applications that solve more unique or possibly temporary organizational needs where no viable Point Solution exists. Often these types of applications are managed ineffeciently using spreadsheets or simple databases.
The final but very important element of the Application Ecosystem is the body of interconnections between applications. These connections or integrations may be between applications in the Extension Layer or with Core Applications. In many cases organizations lack the technical capability to effectively integrate applications so information is moved between applications with human, manual processes. Only when extension applications reach a significant size and value are they integrated in an automated way with other applications.
Paas & ETL Enable Flexibility in Extension Layer Application Creation and Interconnectivty
Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) tools such as QuickBase and Wolf Frameworks provide organizations with tool sets to rapidly build and deploy Extension Layer applications that extend core accounting and ERP systems or provide effective departmental or workgroup functionality. PaaS is frequently utilized for Situational Applications but also quickly becoming a strong choice for CRM, sales force automation and other areas often relegated to Point Solutions.
One of the main benefits of PaaS as part of an organizations Extension Layer is the ability to quickly and easily interconnect data and processes between applications designed on the same PaaS technology. For example, QucikBase allows the ability to create cross application relationships between applications as a simpel and easy way to share information.
A technology that is rapidly becoming mainstream is Extract-Transform-and-Load (ETL) tools. Open Source technologies like Talend ETL are allowing rapid, low cost development of integration. This means that organizations can choose to automatically tie together applications, processes and information that previously could not have been efficiently integrated.
It seems there is a continual push and pull in the technology world between centralizing and consolidating technology vs. distributing and diversifying. We’ve asked ourselves this question often of whether our clients will be better served with a single technology to support their needs.
This line of questioning typically leads to the evaluation of the trade off between a single multi-purposed technology that solves many problems but none well as opposed to a number of “best-of-breed” solutions.
In reality organizations seem to answer this perennial question with decisions that shift the balance continually. These decisions and the resulting daily interactions with IT systems are what we refer to as “Living IT”. By acknowledging that technology within an organization is a dynamic entity allows for a whole new approach to solving business process and technology challenges. A number of important factors are defining “Living IT” and it’s place in the 21st century organization.
1. The gap between management and technology is shrinking
As the Cloud evolves and the explosion of advanced collaboration and business process tools continues, technology that previously relied on IT staff to deploy and support is becoming accessible directly to information and process managers. Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) technologies such as QuickBase are a perfect example of tools that are narrowing this gap. While QuickBase has the ability to handle advanced technological problems, the codeless development environment is used by managers with limited technical skills in tens of thousands of companies to deploy collaborative information gathering and process applications.
2. The costs and risks of change are shrinking as the benefits are growing
The 21st century company has to adapt quickly. This means adding capacity and scaling quickly but also being nimble enough to shrink and shift directions nimbly. In the “Living IT” environment companies need tools that are flexible, scalable and in many cases expendable. QuickBase is again an ideal model for supporting change at a low cost. The QuickBase subscription model is user based allowing organizations to develop as many platform applications as are needed with the scaling costs based on users only. As organizations needs change applications can be retired without concern and new ones rapidly developed and deployed.
3. Interconnectivity and security, two sides of the same coin are the main drivers of 21st century technology
Ubiquitous access to the internet has opened the doors to a new wave of collaboration between people and between technologies. This new power of communication has also brought with it very real organizational concerns about security and accessibility of information. QuickBase provides powerful tools to take advantage of collaboration but also manage the associated risks.
- Domain/application user model: QuickBase users are registered with the QuickBase domain or with a private domain for enterprise accounts. Application managers can then invite users who have registered in their domain to applications to allow access. This simple but powerful model allows for easy collaboration with users inside and outside the organization without compromising security.
- Role based security: within an application access is defined for each user by designated roles. Roles can be easily configured for simple access rules or more complex data driven models. This enables applications to effectively create different user and data experiences tailored for each application user.
- Secure and capable API: QuickBase supports communication to and from external application via an HTTP API model. The API enables interaction with all application tables for query, record add/update and import actions as well as more advanced interactivity. All API interaction required authenticated sessions and for increased security, applications can enforce API token requirements.
The most important consideration in creating a true “Living It” environment is to embrace and not fear technology change. Even very traditional technologies like accounting systems have to flex and change as the tax and other financial policies change. Process and collaboration tools need to be even more flexible to support organizational evolution. QuickBase is in ideal tool for supporting the “Living IT” environment due to it’s ability to enable development of secure, collaborative process and information management applications.