Business Process Tools Emerge from Shadows

Customers want guidance on business processes.

How do you allocate your technology resources most efficiently? With a limited budget, limited expertise and a world of business demands standing outside your door, you need to know how to get the most bang for your IT dollar. When you follow a fad, invest in technology for technologys sake, or exhaust yourself and your resources meeting a business need that evaporates before the projects conclusion, you are not productive or improving your long-term employment outlook.

Vendors should be helping here, but often they miss the mark. User interfaces become dramatic 3-D spectacles, when simplicity is whats needed. Data schemata require huge efforts to tag all the data, when you really want just a simple, fast search engine. Security products require IT staffs to expend great energy fighting the last war rather than anticipating the next breach.

However, Ive run into several examples lately of vendors addressing the right questions. These are worth noting not for their rarity but as examples of a new set of product and service introductions. Customers are not looking for the big, startling new-product introductions. Theyre more concerned with road maps, systems integration and efficiency improvements.

Business process management has often held more potential than payoff. The idea of mapping out your processes and then applying logic and technology to make your business more efficient is a compelling idea. Far too often, that mapping process becomes hopelessly bogged down in committee meetings, in arguments about which fiefdom really owns a process or in creating a chart that looks more like plans for building a nuclear submarine than a simple financial approval process.

Ultimus co-founder and CEO Rashid Khan thinks he has the answer to simplifying that mapping process. Why not allow your business-mapping process to self-discover the real process and proceed from that point? "I call it adaptive discovery," Khan told me over lunch in Durham, N.C., near the companys headquarters. The automated discovery system has taken seven years to move from idea to beta, but if it can cut down on the too-often onerous and expensive mapping process, the seven- year trek will be worth the effort. This one bears watching.

The next stop for me after the Ultimus lunch was SAS Institute, where after a meeting with CEO James Goodnight, I was scheduled to flail my way around the Prestonwood golf course for a few hours. SAS is the worlds largest privately held software company, with 2003 revenues of $1.34 billion, and Goodnight told me he expects double-digit growth to continue for the current year.

The company grew by developing the best business analytics system available. However, that system was too often seen as only a big-company product and the province of a group of in-house SAS experts who did the work and provided a report to management.

One of SAS current goals is to extend its reach into business intelligence and make its products accessible to business managers. "We left too much to the other people," Goodnight said. Investing in analytics and business intelligence has a much greater payoff than continued investing in broad projects such as enterprise resource planning systems, contended Goodnight. "ERP systems often dont provide a whole lot of intelligence. They dont help you forecast the future," he said. In a world where prices change as fast as a mouse click, building a real-time analytics and pricing system may be the most important technology investment a company can make.

Several days later, I met with Enrique Salem, senior vice president of network and gateway security solutions for Symantec. Salems task is taking Symantec from being seen in the enterprise world as a purveyor of lots of yellow boxes with a point product for every security ill to a systemwide security solutions and services provider. Customers want to get ahead of the curve on security solutions, and it is Salems job to give them a road map showing how Symantec will get there. Now thats one road map that is needed to address the right customer questions.

Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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