Step back and think: How would you answer the question, “What does your IT group deliver to your business?” Your answer will indicate how you think about the relationship between business and technology, and, in turn, it will affect your business agility and your business-IT alignment.
If you answer anything close to “IT delivers and integrates solutions to meet business requirements,” your mental model boils down to thinking that your solutions support the business: Business is one thing; solutions are a separate thing. If the business has a problem, let it come ask IT for some application to address the problem — maybe IT will even help the business figure out what it needs. Each application supports (typically overlapping) parts of the business, and IT performs whatever behind-the-scenes integration is necessary to gain some degree of coherency across the whole. The result is the sort of siloed spaghetti application mess that most organizations are dealing with — even if SOA and BPM and the rest make it easier to deal with.
Can you remember a year when your business both (1) grew in a healthy way and (2) changed more slowly than the year before? Besides a company’s early startup years, such would be the exception, not the rule. So, in 2011, your business is likely to continue accelerating its pace of change. A recent Forrester report, The Top 15 Technology Trends EA Should Watch: 2011 To 2013, named both business rules and SOA policy as items for your watch list — because both of them help accelerate business change.
Back in the mainframe days — and even into minicomputer, client/server, and Web applications — nearly all of the business logic for every application was tightly wrapped up in the application code. A few forward-thinking programmers might have built separate parameter files with a small bit of business-oriented application configuration, but that was about it. But, business changes too quickly to have all of the rules locked up in the code.
Some have tried the route that businesspeople ought to do their own programming — and many vendor tools through the years have tried creatively (though unsuccessfully) to make development simple enough for that. But, business is too complex for businesspeople to do all of their own programming.
Enter business rules, SOA policy, and other ways to pull certain bits of business logic out of being buried in the code. What makes these types of approaches valuable is that they are targeted, contained, and can have appropriate life cycles built around them to allow businesspeople to change what they are qualified to change, authorized to change, and have been approved to change.