In response to a recent post where I suggested that Integration is a good place to start your self-service journey, readers responded with questions about whether IT is ready. Here is one of the comments: “For self-service to be successful requires the company to have the correct level of maturity both on the business and IT side, the correct structure and governance in place and an entity dedicated to guiding and promoting the organizations integration efforts.”
I couldn’t agree more. The last part of the statement is easy since I’ve been promoting for over 10 years that Integration Competency Centers should always strive to deliver common and repeatable integration activities with a metadata driven self-service approach. The ICC, COE, or whatever you want to call it, is the entity dedicated to guiding and promoting the organizations integration efforts.
The readers comment about the need for a certain level of IT and Business maturity is more interesting, but what does “mature” mean in this context? One way to answer this question is to consider how other forms of self-service became accepted such as retail store checkout, bank ATM’s or online shopping. If we go back further, other examples that we take for granted these days include riding an elevator or making a phone call (when was the last time you spoke with an elevator or phone operator?) How did all these services, which at one time involved a manual process and required a person to deliver them, become self-service?
There are four essential ingredients to achieve self-service; standards, automation, an easy-to-use interface, and a technological breakthrough. The first thing you need are standards; for elevators we needed standards for safety while for retail transactions we needed standards for payment transactions. Second, you need automation; for elevators automatic sensors to open the door if someone’s hand is in it; for phones electronic switches; and for ATM’s money dispensers. Finally, you need an easy-to-use interface; imagine if different elevators represented floors as numbers, letters, roman numerals, or symbols. Phones are a great example of several generations of user interface that have improved with each generation from dials, to keypads, to voice-activated calling on a smart phone. In all examples of self-service that I can think of, there was one other ingredient that enabled the transformation – a technological breakthrough. From telephone switches to bar-code scanners to currency dispensers.
So rather than talking about IT and Business maturity, we should talk about the four ingredients of standards, automation, easy UI, and technology breakthrough. Just as there is no single world-wide spoken language, there is not and never will be a single world-wide data standard. But that doesn’t mean that an enterprise can’t have a standard. In fact many enterprises have a well-defined information architecture, business glossary, canonical data model and a data governance program to guide the efforts. Automation is simply a matter of developing a business case to show the benefits of investing in factory-style processes. While it can be challenging to develop an effective UI, we know how to do it and there is no reason why we couldn’t develop an iPad-style UI for common IT activities. As for a technological breakthrough in the integration arena, it happened over 15 years with the development of middleware technology. The technology is now mature enough, as evidenced by Informatica’s 9.1 Platform release, that self-service solutions in the integration arena can now be commonplace.
In summary, if an organization wants an IT self-service model, they need a data governance program, the discipline to perform business cases to invest in IT automation, and a philosophy of simplifying complex tasks. If you have these things, then I guess we could say you have the maturity for self-service.