Stuck In Cement: When Packaged Apps Create Barriers To Innovation

Craig Le Clair
Vice President, Principal Analyst
January 9, 2012

My “Stuck in Cement” research is up on Forrester.com today. I have to say, I really wrestled with the title. It’s just incorrect to say “stuck in cement,” because technically cement is only the active ingredient and needs to be mixed with sand and water to make concrete. So it should be “stuck in concrete,” although somehow this doesn’t quite sound right. But really, who but a chemist would lose sleep over this or even catch the distinction? The real issue is whether packaged apps really are a barrier to innovation at this point — or does our research just reflect the high level of frustration that our clients feel trying to manage technology in a world changing so quickly?

The basic idea is that industry-specific or packaged apps — and these are currently mostly on-premises applications — aligned with organizational silos have worked well for well-defined, highly structured processes where volume, scale, and straight-through processing dominate system design. But these apps are difficult to change, appear increasingly less relevant, and form a barrier to innovation for companies in fast-moving industries like energy, healthcare, and financial services now facing advancing consumer technologies that threaten business as usual.

The research shows that over the next five years, a new generation of processes designed from the outside in will replace the heavy packaged apps designed from the inside out that drive customer interaction today. I call these “tamed processes” to contrast with the hundreds of “untamed” processes (which I’ve written about extensively) that lurk in the shadows and dark corners of the more dominant packaged and industry-specific applications and struggle to cope with searching, filing, and entering data and cross-department human and organizational issues — think invoice automation or customer onboarding.

But emergent “tamed” processes do not derive from the need to customize transaction systems or packaged apps, but are based on an outside-in focus that starts with the needs of the customer. As a result, these processes naturally float across traditional organizational boundaries and often include partners and suppliers. Many of these cross-functional processes will incorporate big data concepts, use emerging predictive analytics, and depend less on processing events triggered from the system of record. Tamed solutions will consist of packaged and custom-built on-premises apps, service partners, and cloud solutions and will leverage advanced dynamic case management (DCM) and business process management (BPM).

In any case, maybe “cement” is better after all, as it gives one some hope of extracting oneself before it’s too late. With concrete, it’s pretty much end of story.

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