Stuck In Cement: When Packaged Apps Create Barriers To Innovation

My “Stuck in Cement” research is up on today. I have to say, I really wrestled with the title. It’s just incorrect to say “stuck in cement,” because technically cement is only the active ingredient and needs to be mixed with sand and water to make concrete. So it should be “stuck in concrete,” although somehow this doesn’t quite sound right. But really, who but a chemist would lose sleep over this or even catch the distinction? The real issue is whether packaged apps really are a barrier to innovation at this point — or does our research just reflect the high level of frustration that our clients feel trying to manage technology in a world changing so quickly?

The basic idea is that industry-specific or packaged apps — and these are currently mostly on-premises applications — aligned with organizational silos have worked well for well-defined, highly structured processes where volume, scale, and straight-through processing dominate system design. But these apps are difficult to change, appear increasingly less relevant, and form a barrier to innovation for companies in fast-moving industries like energy, healthcare, and financial services now facing advancing consumer technologies that threaten business as usual.

The research shows that over the next five years, a new generation of processes designed from the outside in will replace the heavy packaged apps designed from the inside out that drive customer interaction today. I call these “tamed processes” to contrast with the hundreds of “untamed” processes (which I’ve written about extensively) that lurk in the shadows and dark corners of the more dominant packaged and industry-specific applications and struggle to cope with searching, filing, and entering data and cross-department human and organizational issues — think invoice automation or customer onboarding.

But emergent “tamed” processes do not derive from the need to customize transaction systems or packaged apps, but are based on an outside-in focus that starts with the needs of the customer. As a result, these processes naturally float across traditional organizational boundaries and often include partners and suppliers. Many of these cross-functional processes will incorporate big data concepts, use emerging predictive analytics, and depend less on processing events triggered from the system of record. Tamed solutions will consist of packaged and custom-built on-premises apps, service partners, and cloud solutions and will leverage advanced dynamic case management (DCM) and business process management (BPM).

In any case, maybe “cement” is better after all, as it gives one some hope of extracting oneself before it’s too late. With concrete, it’s pretty much end of story.


Feet of Clay

Hi Craig,

There are many metaphors for it, 'stuck in cement' aptly describes the frustration of being sluggish. No matter how you say it all boils down to the same thing re: lack of agility. It is ironic that after decades of various process improvement movements, the most inefficient aspect of the enterprise is 'change management'. If you get a chance, please see my paper on InfoQ -

Is there a link to your new report? I searched for it on the site, but couldn't find it.


Cement and Clay

Thanks Dave. I tweeted your article - looks goood. Report should be up tonight. Best.

Stuck in Cement: Turn to BPM for edge applications

Hi Craig,

I am impressed with your vision of innovation shifting to the edge.

I have shared my thoughts on this topic at the official Oracle blog.


Cement: Isn't this ERP's problem, too?

Great post. The cement you reference could also be the ERP's that so many are implementing or already have. How can any company expect to differentiate themselves and compete better when their systems are nearly identical to their competitors? The more data and speed matter, the more monolithic ERP's will be the biggest challenge in gaining new business or turning the aircraft carrier. That doesn't mean ERP's need to be thrown away. They need to be orchestrated with software that thinks outside-in. I believe that ERP's will need to be seen as master data management of sorts that keeps transactional data intact so that it can be served up on light-weight, purpose-built apps rather than through cumbersome transactional screens.

Where the cement is hardest is where companies have their livelihood built on systems that are being sold to everyone in their space. ERP is the best example.

Agile Software is a new capability that should be recognised?

I think you are spot on and as Dave said "lack of agility" is the real issue.
There is a new breed of tool that now delivers this key capability where basically coding is largely eliminated yet can build any solution recognising it is people that are the source of all information and that business logic never changes.
We have pioneered this and we use a declarative technology (we know of one other doing the same) others I have seen use BPMN and related technologies. It is game changing and allows business to quickly change supporting innovative ways to do things better and see constant performance improvement. Legacy is used as Chris says use ERP if you have it if you have not got it then this new way would be a quicker and smarter way to invest in new applications where it matters supporting people. See our "story" why and how