This is the second installment discussing observations over my 30 years in the business. Early in my career I was a System Programmer for 5 different companies, each in different industries. What was true early in my career is that what I did and how the companies used the computer systems were virtually identical. This is less about my experience with the z platform and can be applied more generally to all platforms.
Each of these organizations, primarily, used the mainframe computer to deal with back office application such as payroll, accounting, Human Resources and other equally exciting applications. While important to the survival of the business and clearly a valuable asset to the company, the computing systems and staff, for the most part, did not deal directly with the “real” activities of the business.
Now, there were some exceptions to this but I am speaking in very general terms. From industry to industry there were a few exceptions to this observation but at a macro point of view the vast majority of the hardware, software and personnel assets were not dedicated to revenue generating activities. In addition, for most businesses, the customers would never know if the computer was up or down.
Now I'm sure that the next thing I'm going to say is going to be one of those duh statements. Your general reaction might be to say that I'm stating the obvious and that it is not a new idea or very profound. However, that being said, I'll say it anyway. Over time we have seen the use of computing systems continue to be more and more aligned with the actual business activities of the company. Again, as mentioned above, the degree that this has happened varied greatly by industry.
The kind of interaction I'm trying to describe is not just revenue generating activities but activities where the customer interacts with the technology directly. Thirty years ago banks had computer systems and the tellers used those systems. So, you would say the computer system was used in generating revenue. However, the kind of interaction I'm referring to is where it is the customer that is using the computer system directly. In the case of banking we would be talking of online banking through the internet or use of the ATM network just to name a couple of examples. If you consider retail, in many stores today, the customer is the one who executes a credit card or debit card transaction. Many stores even have self-checkout registers where the customer completes the entire purchase without the aid of an employee.
These are examples of how the use of computing technologies has changed from back office type work to customer facing activities. Where as the interface our customers were used to 30 years ago was the smiling face of an employee, it's not uncommon for customers to be interacting only with the computing systems.
At a recent conference I attempted to describe this change graphically. If you think of the computing systems and customer interactions with the business each as a circle that is part of a Venn diagram. In 1978 when I started my career as an application programmer, these two circles would have overlapped very little if at all. The amount of overlap would have varied by industry just as it does today.
(I apologize for the missing graphic. I will upload the graphic as soon as my technical problem is resolved.)
This is a very rudimentary graphic but I think it demonstrates why it's important that companies change the way they look at their computing systems and personnel. This is a very aggregated view of IT and within this view there are myriad hardware, software platforms and applications. It's important that companies find a way to make the customer interaction with their company just as delightful as it was when they interacted with professional and smiling employees. If companies fail to manage the intersection of these two areas properly they will struggle to meet their customers' demands.
In my humble opinion, companies need to make organizational and management changes to manage their critical IT resources in a cohesive manner that addresses the needs of their customers. Managing their IT resources as islands of technology will fail to address these needs because the customer facing applications are ahead of the organizations and are being deployed across the various islands of technology. Until we learn to manage the applications in the same way they are used, that is from the customer's perspective, we will continue to struggle with the reputation of IT as being a stumbling block to business instead of a driver of business.
Comments welcome. I'd love to hear from you. Did you find this helpful?