Business software is often challenged. According to studies performed by companies such as the Gartner Group, the Standish Group, and IDC, an astonishingly large portion of development projects fail to come up with anything useful at all. An even larger portion is challenged for reasons such as not supporting the business as well as the business needs to be supported. When businesses need to change fast to keep up with customer needs and with competition, software is often mentioned as the show stopper; the software used is often too complex and too unrelated to the business to allow the business to change as fast as necessary.
This article suggests that software architects must improve their business understanding to help solve this problem. But business people must also learn how to better communicate to software development teams what they expect from them. New architect roles, both on the business side and on the IT side, are needed for the creation of IT systems that solve business problems well, and that also help the business to be agile, able to change at least as fast as its main competitors.
Business software exists for one reason only: to support the business and its activities, or to help change the way business is performed. There's no other reason for business software. If it doesn't support the business the way the business needs to be supported or help change the business, it doesn't matter how technically brilliant the software is. Its value lies in its capability to increase the productivity and efficiency of the business.
In principle, there are three ways in which business software can support a business and its activities:
- A business process improvement project is started to improve the functionality of a specific business process. New or improved software is designed to help improve the way people can perform the business process.
- New ways to use technologies become available, making it possible to totally change the way business is performed. For example, Web services have profoundly changed the way a Web shop might interact with suppliers of goods sold by the Web shop. "Web 2.0" might have a similar effect on the way some businesses organize their interaction with customers and partners.
- Decision support.
As members of the huge software development community, we sometimes forget the real purpose of business software. We tend to admire IT solutions for their technical excellence rather than for the way they support the business. It's sometimes taken for granted that the software does its job.
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