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The next frontier for software: Smart process applications fill a big gap

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Four technology forces

The need for smart process apps is compelling, but why now? Four key technology forces are driving the development and growth of smart process applications. Every enterprise has been touched and shaken up by those powerful forces as they shape the transformation and improvement of critical business practices, ongoing support for existing packaged apps, and the design and delivery of custom applications.

  • Cloud computing enables collaboration by anyone, anywhere. Cloud computing has gained significant adoption as a way for firms to shift from the capital-intensive model of buying and running infrastructure and software, to renting usage of shared infrastructure and applications. While some firms are replacing licensed software with SaaS (software-as-a-service) applications, most are using SaaS for new product categories that complement their existing on-premises software. For activities that involve collaboration, SaaS style browser access to an application is far superior to running it behind a firewall. Because smart process applications complement traditional applications, Forrester sees much of the growth in SaaS applications stemming from the smart process market.
  • Mobile computing enables access from anywhere. By 2016, smart phones and tablets will put power in the pockets of a billion global consumers. Mobile will quickly become a viable manifestation of the broad shift to new systems of engagement designed to help firms enable and empower their customers. Looking ahead, employees and customers will expect-and demand-that all business applications support mobility.
  • Empowered employees take the lead in modernizing and streamlining collaboration. According to a Forrester survey, 53 percent of global workforce employees bring their own technology to the office for work purposes. Just as those employees are empowered to bring their own devices to work, they are empowered to use those technologies as a mechanism to improve collaboration and productivity, and expect to integrate their devices seamlessly into core business applications.
  • Smart computing creates new sources of awareness data. The world is quickly becoming more instrumented, intelligent and interconnected. We have become accustomed to digital refrigerators, smart picture frames and intelligent heating and cooling mechanisms. But what about the individua­ls who make up the workforce? They, too, will become smarter as advanced analytics and predictive models are added to business applications.

Challenges and opportunities

Like all new technologies, smart process applications create both tremendous opportunities and challenges for business leaders. Smart process applications have the power to improve a firm's cost structure, revenues, profits and return on assets if implemented correctly.

But because smart process applications are an emerging technology category with large growth potential, challenges arise when finding and integrating the correct approach. Eventually, business leaders will identify collaboration activities for which no smart process model currently exists. To overcome that, business leaders and CIOs will need to:

  • take a critical look at internal collaboration platforms and identify areas of improvement,
  • use BPM suites to build custom smart process applications, and
  • leverage current industry-based smart process applications.

Remember: An activity that you consider critical to your firm is probably not unique. Great opportunities exist for those who have the ability to turn custom solutions into industrywide practices that empower knowledge workers above and beyond the current level that packaged apps address.

Finally, a word of caution: Smart process apps should be viewed as an incremental, interactive solution to a business need, not a cure-all solution. No firm has identified the ideal combination of technology and human interaction to make a business activity reach the maximum level of productivity. Companies will need to spend time experimenting to find the right balance between efficacy and effectiveness, learning what their employees respond well to, and adapting their design for unique circumstances. Smart process applications are flexible and adaptable enough to evolve and support that learning process, and will quickly grow to fill a big business gap. 

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