Something very strange is happening with the way we use the internet. There is a simulaneous trend towards consolidating content from multiple sites into a consolidated view (rss readers) and exploding communication channels from a single consolidated view (email) into multiple views (extranets).
Companies building IT systems to replace a previously offline (paper-phone-fax) based business process often spend millions of dollars on the project. These systems surprisingly similar to one another (given that they represent different business processes in different industries) Actors have particular Roles. The Actors operate on Documents, which are exchanged between actors in a pre-choreographed order that is the Business Process. The system is typically designed to replace a mature paper-fax-phone based process already in existence, be it processing a purchase order or approving an application for insurance.
Companies are often surprised when they face resistance or low adoption to the new systems (something I wrote about a little while ago in hooking small businesses up). A number of the projects that my company Uzanto has tackled in the past year have involved – in some way or the other – fixing broken systems of this type, particularly at the intersection between a large enterprise and it’s much smaller partners (think insurance brokers, or real estate agents, or retail stores). One specific reason for failure that we have encountered again and again is due to the fudgability of paper / voice, and the inflexibility of any software process that tries to replace it.
My company has been doing b2b stuff in a variety of industries (health care, real estate, insurance) for the last several months. Not the old “lets build an emarketplace and hope for the best” kind of b2b stuff that was popular during the bubble, but the real, hard work of helping companies build electronic bridges with their close business partners.
As an engineer with a web services background, I’m surprised at how much of this work is UI related. Wasn’t XML and SOAP supposed to be a magic elixir that let companies integrate seamlessly with their partners?