|Topic:||Mobilising economic potential through technology|
|Author:||P. R. Venketrama Raja|
|Title:||Vice Chairman, Managing Director and CEO|
P. R. Venketrama Raja is the Vice Chairman, Managing Director and CEO of Ramco Systems. The company was established in 1989, with a mission to create a world-class information technology company focused on enterprise management applications and emerging technologies. PRV, as he is known, is driven by the philosophy that ‘technology keeps you ahead’. PRV is a director on the Board of Ramco Group companies and brings with him a wealth of business experience and strategic management skills. PRV holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Madras, India, and a Master’s degree in Business Management from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, US. PRV is an active member of the Young Presidents’ Organisation.
Companies rely on information technology and enterprise solutions to operate and improve their businesses. Although software packages exist, one solution does not serve all and change is inevitable. Model-based architectures, model the business processes, business rules and business data as meta-data that business people can view and understand, and then automates the majority of the development of the software for the application. This allows quick, low-cost deployment of seamless business applications that are easy to change as needed.
Information Technology is one of the biggest enablers of ‘better’ business. Companies rely heavily on enterprise solutions to help operate and improve their businesses. Leading companies use enterprise solutions to implement and support new business practices, to provide better information, to enable better decision making and to increase communication and information, sharing both within their business and across their business networks. Technology is a major investment for any organisation; it is imperative that it provides not just incremental, but rather exponential gains for businesses. The IT system should be uniquely adaptive and provide all-round benefits. To provide these exponential gains, it is imperative for the solution to address the three realities of today’s business environment. Reality 1–businesses really are unique Standardised systems are based on the 80/20 rule–build the 80 per cent of functionality that is common to most businesses and that will fit most of everyone’s needs. The reality is that different industries, and even individual companies, have unique qualities that must be addressed by their applications. While best business practices are a valuable tool, the practices must match the realities of the way each company does business–within its own ‘ecosystem’ of customers and suppliers, and within its industry. Reality 2–change is inevitable Change is an issue that every company must deal with. While different companies have different tolerances for change, all companies must address it. Enterprise applications must, at a minimum, be able to accommodate the inevitable change forced on businesses by government regulation, their trading partners or their competitors and, at best, enable innovative companies to drive continual improvement in their businesses. Reality 3–application diversity is the norm Most companies would like to have a single, integrated enterprise application that suits all of their needs. All support would come from a single source, and that source would supply all of the needed solutions. The existing legacy applications in the business could be phased out and replaced with functionality from the universal enterprise system. Unfortunately, that dream has not materialised. In fact, with the advent of new enterprise suites such as CRM, SCP, SCE, PLM and others–there is more heterogeneity now than ever. Even with all of these systems, there are still gaps that are currently filled by legacy systems, manual processes or custom solutions. The challenge in addressing these realities lies deep within the architecture of the applications so, without a new generation of enterprise architecture, the applications cannot be delivered to meet the realties. Addressing the three realities–model-based architecture Dealing with the ‘three realities’ requires a new approach to enterprise architecture and application delivery. The rules and constraints imposed by the current generation of architectures are no longer acceptable. While the current generation of enterprise applications has provided companies with best practices, standardised business processes and the ability to integrate and collaborate far better than before, there are now critical gaps to: √ Provide accepted best practice functionality, industry-specific requirements and easily address customer-specific unique processes; √ Enable and support business change–whether proactive through continuous business innovation or reactive in response to customer demands, government regulations or competitor innovation; √ Assimilate multiple types of applications within a company’s enterprise portfolio into integrated business processes. The model-based architecture represents the business processes, business rules and business data as meta-data that business people can view and understand, and then automates the majority of the development of the software code for the application. This approach allows the business users to visualise the solution before any work begins on the code. Then, when the application is sound from a business standpoint, the automation fundamentally changes the amount of time it takes to build or modify applications and results in increased software quality, all at a lower total cost of ownership. In addition, the model-based architecture implements new enhancements on an as-needed basis to support the business as the needs change. The same model-based approach allows forging business processes by bringing together different software applications. The model provides the process, workflow and integration to assemble the different applications into a more cohesive, composite application. The integration is done in a way that ensures both data and business integrity. By combining the integration capabilities with the ability to quickly generate custom applications, model-based architecture pulls applications together into business processes, and generates applications to fill the gaps where the required functionality was not available. Advantages of model-based architecture Advantages for custom solutions Businesses that use model-based architecture for custom solutions benefit from faster application deployment, reduced application development cost and total cost of ownership, greatly improved quality, increased agility and greatly improved product sustainability. Model-based architectures provide for more rapid development through automation of repetitive, time-consuming development tasks. This is similar to the way that manufacturing automation has increased production speed and quality; however, these advances are just beginning to enter the software engineering environment. Business analysts can focus on getting the application to support the business through modelling and visualisation of the solution before coding begins. This improves the functional quality of the application. Because the majority of the code is automatically generated, along with repeatable test scripts, the technical quality improves dramatically. Finally, the application is far more sustainable over time. Because changes are expected and easy to achieve, the application quality does not degrade over time. Since the application is defined in a model from which code is generated, the application takes advantage of portability across technologies. This allows the application to migrate easily to new technologies, making the application ‘future proof’ by simply re-generating the application for the new environment. Advantages for packaged applications There are two major categories of advantages for packaged applications. The first are advantages that stem from increased development efficiencies for the standard products themselves, and the second are those that stem from the way that model-based architectures work in the customer environment. The model-based architecture allows rapid development of packaged applications at reduced cost. This means that the applications have more industry-specific functionality and benefit from the lack of unneeded features and functions. Model-based architectures facilitate change. As business needs change–based on customer needs, market drivers, internal strategies, etc.–the software can be adjusted. This not only supports change, but also helps to drive change in the business. Whether a company wants to adopt a continuous improvement approach, or just react as needed to critical changes, the ability to change rapidly and cost effectively allows them to better compete in the market. Advantages for multi-application implementations The model-based architecture allows application integration to follow a business process approach, rather than just a systems-based approach. The model organizes the required functionality from the different applications into a cohesive, composite application. Application components can be assembled and deployed based on business processes and business rules, drawing support and leveraging functionality from the existing applications. Where gaps in support are found, a library of predefined functionality can be used to fill the gaps. Where no standard components are available, the model-based approach supports the generation of new business logic and data structures as required to support the business. By using a model-based approach, the resulting application can adapt to change over time. Economics of model-based architecture Let us consider the economics of the Model-based architecture through an example: A leading helicopter services company, required a reliable, state-of-art enterprise solution to replace their legacy system and for competitive advantage. Some of their business needs were: √ Comprehensive CMMS (Computerised Maintenance Management System) solution, which automates all the business processes; √ Robust platform for collaboration with suppliers and partners; √ Minimal ‘aircraft-on-ground’ time through process improvements in maintenance and logistics; √ Enhanced performance management capabilities and reduced maintenance overhead costs; √ Better adherence to regulatory and operational standards. The company adopted model-based architecture for its enterprise solution and the results are visible: √ Comprehensive solution with a size of over 70,000 function points (a measure of an application’s functional complexity) with over 10,000 function points of personalisation and new development; √ ‘Big Bang’ implementation for over 850 users; √ Tight deadlines for development and deployment–10 months instead of the usual 18 months; √ Scope and solution creep handled without delaying project–two additional sub projects undertaken during the project; √ Robust quality of the solution–60 per cent better than the industry average in terms of the number of defects per function point; √ Technology platform and system software decisions arrived at after freezing the business functionality definitions. Realities Enterprise applications must work within the realities of the businesses they are trying to support to provide value. √ Business really are unique; √ Change is inevitable; √ Application diversity is the norm. The Three Realities of Enterprise Solutions are fundamental truths about the way that business use enterprise applications, and must be addressed by both the applications and the application architecture. Not addressing these realities has different implications for different solution approaches (custom, packaged, multi-application) each with their own challenges. The model-based architecture addresses these realities by allowing applications to be delivered based on industry needs, tailored to a company’s specific requirements, by allowing for adaptability to inevitable business changes, and by enabling the multi-application environment with composite applications that support seamless business processes. Model-based architectures provide for this through automation, addressing the three realities while simultaneously delivering solutions at a lower cost, through rapid application delivery and better quality.