A wise man once wrote that the demon of love was lust, the demon of money was greed, and the demon of success was pride. All true. And my experience has been that many new technologies and trends in the IT world have their own demons— those joy- and ROI-stealing realities that keep us from enjoying the benefits promised to us.
Let me give you a few examples. The younger IT crowd is very much looking forward to the True and Wonderful Benefits of Virtual Reality (VR). I’m older, so I’ve been waiting for VR for more than 25 years. If I was Rapunzel and VR was Flynn Rider, I’d have cut off my hair and free-climbed down the tower to escape by myself.
Have we seen some VR applications that had impact on the world? Yes. Have we seen what was promised during the hype cycle for VR that began in 1987? No. This was going to Change Everything. It didn’t. Maybe new technologies will breathe new life into it, especially given Facebook’s investments in Oculus VR and Valve and HTC’s investments in HTC Vive. But the demon of VR of yesteryear remains: head-mounted displays. No one wants a technology that requires you to put a 75-pound helmet on your head. No one.
For those who have been in this industry for multiple decades like me, you’ll remember CASE tools (computer-aided software engineering). The idea was that one day, we wouldn’t write software anymore. We’d just drag business processes (represented by icons) around on a screen, drop them into place, connect them, and voila! (that’s French for dang!), we’d have built an entire IT application.
By now, you know that never came to pass, despite literally hundreds of millions of dollars spent and lots of dragging and even more dropping. The demon of CASE tools was codification. It’s the inconvenient truth that business IT systems have enormous amounts of business processes, decisions, calculations, and best practices baked into them via those pesky hand-written, human-brain-designed lines of code. Codification is so valuable that many companies spend a lot of money to modernize an application rather than rewrite it.
The CASE tool demon has now turned its evil attention on automation. Please do not think that I’m an automation nay-sayer; I’m not. I’m excited about the possibilities and successes that automation already enjoys in our marketplace—but I think we need to understand that codification will be a factor in automation.
I saw an example a few weeks ago at a demonstration of a well-known company’s automated agent dealing with invoice processing. That one portion of a very small subset of one financial process (accounts payable) was codified for automation only through the efforts of literally dozens of people over months. And if that business process changes, so will the codification of that automation.
Again, I don’t want to rain on the automation parade, but if we don’t address the pesky codification issue, there’s no way we’ll be able to get the most out of automation in our industry.
By the way, etcetera is French for “There’s a lot more to discuss on this topic, but research has shown that this is the longest that a blog post can be and still be read by the majority of people.”