May 15 2015

Over the last several years we have witnessed an increase in the number of Citizen Developers supporting business automation outside of the IT department. Gartner describe a Citizen Developer in their IT Glossary as…

citizen developer is a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT. In the past, end-user application development has typically been limited to single-user or workgroup solutions built with tools like Microsoft Excel and Access. However, today, end users can build departmental, enterprise and even public applications using shared services, fourth-generation language (4GL)-style development platforms and cloud computing services.

As the generation of baby boomers retire, they are being replaced by generations of workers who grew up with computers. These newer generations are comfortable working with technology in all its forms, at its simplest …word processing, spreadsheets and web pages. At its most complex, this technology can include mobile applications, and social media and collaboration tools.  As a result these individuals are more impatient and demanding in their expectation that automation should be available to support them and the business processes within their organization.

It is common that IT departments suffer from resource constraints, often limiting their ability to support projects to only those with the highest strategic alignment or return on investment. These constraints can leave a lot of automation opportunities on the table to the frustration of the business organization. Often this frustration results in Citizen Developers implementing solutions to bridge the gap between what IT can provide and what the business needs in order to function successfully. However, these “off the grid” solutions may expose the organization to risks including:

  • Security Lapses
  • Data Loss and Quality Issues
  • Poorly Designed Software

It makes sense that IT organizations help can reduce these risks by supporting and guiding the Citizen Developer community in their tool choice and development standards. By providing a managed development environment including best practice standards, IT can improve the quality of the deliverables being produced from within the business community. By providing a secure run time environment, IT can mitigate risks associated with critical data loss and security exposures. It is often the case that these “off grid” solutions become essential tools to the organization. When issues arise, ownership for support and future enhancements may need to be assumed by the IT department along with the associated resourcing burden. In order to minimize the impact of these downstream ownership changes IT needs to become be an engaged partner to the Citizen Developers.

Oracle’s BPM 12c offers great promise as a tool for non IT resources to automate business processes with agility and independence from the IT department. However BPM 12c can also be deployed in a way that provides the IT department with visibility (and the opportunity for mentorship) in what the Citizen Community is developing and deploying. 

The Business Composer tool that comes with Oracle 12c allows a Citizen Developer or business analyst to take a business process all the way from visualization to implementation. With the web based Process Composer tool, users can create the following components of a business process:-

The Process Flow: Using standards based BPMN 2.0 users can visually model a business process using a simple drag and drop UI. This process can consist of human and system activities. An example of a human activity is where a user needs to interface to the process in order to enter some data, perhaps a customer account number or approve an overtime request. A system activity is where the process might perform some behind the scenes work such as pulling data from a database based on a customer account number or accessing a web service to retrieve order information.

Fig. 1 Process Flow

 

Business Rules: Users can create business rules that describe business policy within their organization. Rather than embed these policies within the code being developed, the rules can be created as a standalone component allowing reuse across many processes. A potential business rule might describe the discount options for a sales order, with any sales order under $5000 qualifying for a 5% discount, and orders over $5000 qualifying for a 10% discount. Another benefit of using the Business Rules component is that rules can be changed real time without having to engage any group to redeploy code.

Web Forms: Provide the Citizen Developer with the ability to implement user screens that are presented to the end user as part of the human activity in the process. They are based on standard technologies, including XHTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Fig. 2 Web Form

 

Performance Data: Business Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can be easily associated to processes and a rich self-service tool, Business Activity Monitoring (BAM), allows the creation of sophisticated dashboards offering real time KPI displays.

Fig. 3 BAM Dashboard

In addition to these components, the Business Composer tool offers a rich set of features that include:-

  • Creation of complex data objects to model business entities such as a customer
  • Support for embedded and external documentation from within a process
  • Support for the creation of sub processes and the ability of processes to communicate to each other
  • Testing tools to emulate the real time behavior of processes

Once the Citizen Developer has developed and tested the process in the Business Composer tool, it is possible to implement an approval mechanism before the process can be deployed.  It is at this point the IT department can be engaged to review and provide feedback on the implementation and work with the Citizen Developer to ensure the development meets the standards and best practices of the larger organization. 

Without Oracle’s BPM 12c and the participation of the IT department, the deployment choices may have been limited, at best, to a server supported by IT, but more likely a machine sitting outside the data center environment.

With Oracle’s BPM 12c the process would be deployed onto a server platform that offers enterprise availability and scalability within the data center environment, and that server likely is part of the disaster recovery plan.

In 2011, Gartner estimated that by 2014 Citizen Developers will be responsible for at least 25% of all new business solutions (http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/1744514).

As an organization are you willing to allow this percentage of your IT investment to be invisible and unmanaged?

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