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Anatomy of an On Demand organization

by Neil McEvoy
June 27th, 2003

On Demand is the simplest and clearest description of the single most important business strategy your company needs to start asking and answering questions about.

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The more you move away from thinking about your organization, and more towards thinking in terms of 'your network', the easier it becomes to understand the need for, the benefits of, and the methods of achieving an On Demand 'real time' enterprise.

Neil McEvoy is CEO of the Genesis Forum and chief architect of its ON_DEMAND Business Program, a business and technology strategy framework for organizations of any size to become agile, 21st-century corporations. This article is an excerpt from the first issue of the organization's On Demand journal, downloadable in full here.

Glossary terms: on demand, EAI, workflow, business process, lookup tool

So what does an On Demand organization look like?

Its primary characteristic is a recognition of being network-centric, in contrast to 20th-century organizations that favor isolation through top-down, command and control paradigms.

There is no such thing as an On Demand business, only an On Demand supply network. No business exists without buying parts from other companies, whether they are people or car tires. How effectively all of these pieces fit together determines how fluid your organization will be.

The more you move away from thinking about your organization, and more towards thinking in terms of 'your network', the easier it becomes to understand the need for, the benefits of, and the methods of achieving an On Demand 'real time' enterprise.

On Demand capability is achieved through this network being fluidly interconnected in a 'loosely coupled' manner, meaning that it can re-organize itself in real time to the preferences of its customers and other market factors.

Ie, On Demand.

With this perspective, your overriding strategy should therefore be to design from the point of view of becoming a more fluid component of a larger network that is beyond your direct control. Up till now, most strategy and re-engineering exercises have constrained the focus of their efforts only to the organization that is implementing them.

This presents a considerable shift in terms of how you think about defining your business processes and what technology will be required to implement them.

Collectively focused (federated) workflow
Most organizations view their business processes as something they own and subsequently design and implement them with a combination of technology and data formats unique to them. The only point at which they consider a broader perspective is at the 'hand-over points' where they pass sub-components of workflow to their supply chain partners.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) projects to connect system to system to enable 'straight through processing' of workflow. This is a fundamental requirement for the fluidity necessary for immediate, On Demand fulfilment of customers needs.

However, achieving this has simply proven too expensive and difficult for corporates, mainly because the traditional point to point EAI model — where ERP is integrated to CRM which is integrated to the web site and so on — generates even more complexity, so speedy and low cost process engineering becomes impossible.

Since the problem centres on semantics, where each different system describes the one same entity (eg the Customer) in a slightly different language, then the solution is surprisingly simple: Just use one format!

On Demand networks achieve low cost straight through processing of workflow through eliminating multiple different versions of customer data and instead work from a singular, shared information set. Instead of expending great amounts of time and money moving the same piece of information between numerous systems, changing it each and every time, the network members simply query and update the same source of data as and when needed.

This is known as a 'federated architecture' as the collective union of all parties involved maintains it.

Organic self-organisation
The most challenging dimension of On Demand organisations is that they require decision-making to originate from the bottom, not the top.

The 'command and control' model for organizational management is one that is practically universal, and that has gone without challenge since its inception in the mills and factories of the 18th and 19th centuries. This is primarily because it fits well with the most fundamental of human compulsions, that of the urge to exert influence over the environment in which we work to best suit our own personal needs. Naturally since power coalesces at the top, then this is the area of the business that exerts the most influence over the shape of the entire organization.

However, customers rarely deal with the people at the top, so the need to change to meet customer needs must be mangled through various 'reporting procedures' for months before action is taken to implement the change customers have requested. Even then, the nature of the change to be implemented must be mangled back down through the chain before it reaches the point it is needed. This painful process can take weeks, months or even years.

Try it out: Phone a large call centre and ask to speak to the head of customer services. I tried it and was told that this person doesn’t actually speak to customers. Wow. A Head Of Customer Services who doesn’t speak to Customers. Fascinating.

The solution is very simple: Empower the customer touch point, whether it be machine-based or a human being, with the authority and ability to implement change requested from customers when it is needed and in the form that is requested.

Combining these two foundations creates a business process framework that avoids becoming entangled in both corporate IT and within a management hierarchy oriented more towards personal egos than satisfying customer demand.

Instead, what the customer wants to happen just happens; quickly and effectively. On Demand.

More on this topic


Tumbling towards agility
The horizontalization of enterprise computing proceeds apace ...

Serious spending for on-demand services
Delivering software-based services on demand is hard ...


On Demand
Issue 1 of the Genesis Forum journal, where this article first appeared (PDF, 315k).


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