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This chapter is from the book

SmartEnough's Experience

So far, you have learned about the general history of computing, but in this section, we consider a specific example. Instead of picking a familiar organization to illustrate the problems, the imaginary company SmartEnough Logistics is used again. Like most companies, SmartEnough Logistics bought into the major IT trends of the past couple of decades. Like most, it got some return from these investments but found that its systems infrastructure wasn't smart enough. In no particular order, then:

  • Enterprise applications—SmartEnough bought both enterprise resource planning (ERP) and CRM software but found the systems had overly rigid processes when used as is. Any time SmartEnough wanted to add functionality, it had to write custom code, which turned out to be hard to maintain and update. Some modules were modified so much that they couldn't even be upgraded. When SmartEnough eventually gave up on modified code and replaced some modules with new versions (which was painful), it found that it no longer had any differentiation from other companies using the software. If only 5% of its business was unique,6 clearly that 5% wouldn't come "off the shelf."
  • Business intelligence—SmartEnough was an early adopter of data warehousing, reporting, OLAP, and indeed the whole business intelligence stack. Status meetings were enhanced with colorful, detailed reports. Executives got pretty dashboards. Management got a grip on what was actually happening. However, being better informed about where packages and shipments were didn't improve SmartEnough's on-time delivery much. Managers went from complaining about no data to complaining about too much data. Dashboards, it turned out, were requested and developed but often not used. All the reporting gave analytically minded people the power to manipulate and understand the data but offered little improvement in operations.

    When "Operational BI" was tried, pushing reports and analytical tools down to front-line workers, SmartEnough found that perhaps only 20 percent of those workers could use the tools. Even the ones who could often didn't have time to review a report or graph before deciding how to treat a customer. Customers wanted answers, not just information, and even the best graphs couldn't be displayed well on drivers' handheld devices. Simply having more data didn't help.

  • Custom applications—SmartEnough recognized early that IT and custom systems matched to its business could offer a competitive advantage. It focused on marketing systems (both direct and to distributors) and the pricing engine. SmartEnough discovered that each channel needed its own technology stack and built several engines: one for the call center, one to support the ERP system, and so on. This code was hard to update and suffered from rampant inconsistencies that upset customers when prices varied inexplicably. Ultimately, the maintenance difficulties caused delays in introducing new products and pricing policies and made it hard to offer custom services to more demanding customers.

    When the Internet took off, SmartEnough added a Web site so that customers could track packages. Nevertheless, customers ended up calling constantly because they could track packages but do nothing to influence delivery. On top of that, alerting and tracking were fine for customers with a few packages but overwhelmed those with many (SmartEnough's best customers). In the end, multiple platforms and expensive maintenance used up so much of the IT budget that they prevented new development.

  • Customer experience—At the time SmartEnough bought the CRM system, its focus was on using technology to improve the customer experience. Most of the technology had the opposite effect—acting as a barrier to good customer service. Customers hated the interactive voice response (IVR) system because it never remembered them and gave the same mindless options to everyone. Most customers learned how to jump past it and speak to an actual person. Wait times increased, and customer satisfaction fell. The Web site, kiosks, and call center software failed to make customers feel known or appreciated.

    Deciding that the problem was a lack of best practices and high turnover in the call center, SmartEnough tried outsourcing some call center work, but it found the resulting lack of control over decision making unacceptable. Focusing back on its internal staff, SmartEnough initiated a major knowledge management exercise to capture policies, procedures, and best practices. Many documents were produced and stored; many were e-mailed to drivers and call center staff. Little changed, however; employees had too many e-mails to read and too little time to read them.

  • Automated package scanning—Realizing that packages were at the heart of its business, SmartEnough has continually invested in package scanning and tracking technology. It has bought everything from handheld computers and barcode scanners to radio frequency identification (RFID) and global positioning system (GPS)-enabled trucks. Despite major improvements in visibility and tracking, SmartEnough still found that drivers couldn't act for their customers; they couldn't cross-sell or up-sell effectively by offering higher-value services when a customer wanted urgent delivery, for instance. The drivers didn't understand the trade-offs and were moving too fast to spend time reviewing detailed analysis graphics on their handheld devices.

    Meanwhile, the managers tracking overall results appreciated the data they got but still found that everything hinged on people responding to the alerts and reports the system generated. As staff became inundated with reports and notifications, alert fatigue set in, and more alerts were ignored. Simple decisions were held up until someone in another time zone got to work, and the whole edifice relied on a few experts juggling data and analysis.

  • SOA, BPM, and BAM—Most recently, SmartEnough has tried to upgrade its IT infrastructure to become more agile, which has helped. SOA has made composite applications easier to develop, but many services are still hard to change, and reuse of services has been slower than expected. SmartEnough worries that it has JABOWS (just a bunch of Web services), not a real architecture at all. Making legacy applications available as services seemed to help, but the same number of maintenance requests come in, and legacy systems are no easier to change than before.

    BPM has helped control and monitor some processes and given SmartEnough more flexibility in some dynamic processes. Problems have arisen, however, in processes customized for major customers. Managing all these different processes is complex, even though almost everything in a process is the same. SmartEnough also found that the benefits, which were published in a major IT magazine, wore off quickly after major inefficiencies were eliminated, because there were still too many manual referrals and too much waiting for decisions. Adopting BAM solved some of these problems, but too many people were still responding to too many alerts, and critical activities were often held up until the next morning.

Perhaps SmartEnough Logistics sounds like an artificial nightmare to you. Perhaps it sounds like your company. Probably your company falls somewhere in between—no one has tried everything and had it all go wrong, but most organizations have had at least some of these experiences. If, like SmartEnough Logistics, your systems aren't smart enough, you probably want to know how enterprise decision management will help and how you actually go about it. The next few chapters introduce the core concepts you need to understand, describe an easy path for adopting enterprise decision management, and show you how it might affect your IT environment. Read on.

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