Intellectual © Property of Donald W. Larson
Concept Originated in November 1998
Further Development in October 1999
The concept of “Business Cycle Workflow” is an expansion of my workflow ideas over the nine years 1990-1999. The idea of making computers work harder and the human less is appealing to me. I think XML lends itself to making automation of information and thus providing knowledge resulting in new applications. Encapsulation of intelligence is one such goal.
This subject of this presentation is an idea I formed while working for IBM as a Project Manager. Although I conceived the idea about IBM, it applies to any organization that manages large-scale projects.
A large part of IBM’s business involves outsourcing. Outsourcing occurs when a company decides it can no longer handle part or all of its IT needs. Such a company then contracts with IBM for a period of time, where IBM will furnish the services desired. I worked in the Transition Standards & Consulting group. My job was to help develop the plans to implement away from the way the client company handled its services, to the way IBM would do them. I never worked on a project worth less than 100 million dollars. Most of those projects were between 500 million and 2 billion dollars. The largest was 10 billion dollars. We’re not speaking small change here. 🙂
There is a pattern that such projects undergo. Large profits can be made by standardization and clear delineation of what the contract calls for and how those services are delivered; the “scope” of the work to be done. When work outside the scope of work happens, it is termed “Scope Creep“. Scope Creep eats into profit and can cause other problems as well. IBM’s approach to management is to standardize the various work components with the goal of reducing contract expenses and improving profits and meeting deliverables.
Of course one of the problems with projects of this size is that standardization is hard to understand and communicate to everyone involved. Like most people, the tools they use should help them in their work effort. However, due to the way in which the project is divided into many mini-projects, inefficiencies are introduced.
One of the problems I noticed soon into my position was that there was no computerized process to handle the various aspects of the project. Sure, they used Lotus Notes, but mostly for email! The only way people knew what was happening was by staying in verbal touch with the other major participants. That is not a good solution.
My proposed solution is to develop a process where XML is utilized from end-to-end, throughout the “Business Cycle”. I think the Business Cycle starts at first contact, long before a contract is signed. Such contact may exist as letters, emails, or verbal communications. As a relationship develops, letters of agreement, letters of intent may be created between parties to help establish the formal, contractual relationship to come. A lot of time and energy is devoted to this process. Promises are made and understandings are arrived at with a vision of what should transpire going forward. Due Diligence is often performed during the time leading up to the contract. When a contract is signed the real work begins; teams are formed, resources are allocated, project plans are created, etc. I am only providing some of the highlights here.
I suggest a product be developed that can make xml-ilations of different types of input. For instance, memos should be saved in a form of XML along with its normal structure. The same applies to other forms of written agreements, especially the contract. The contract is the only enforceable article of agreement. It seems natural to me that capturing its essence in XML and related XML Schemas would help govern and track the balance of the various documents through the process.
In the project management area, the work breakdown structures, the project plans, and other administrative processes could be derived by parsing the contract XML using rules and other logic built using a database of xml-intelligent tools. I describe this today as “Business Cycle Workflow.” As the project moves through the life cycle after contract, management could track adherence to the contract from a variety of vantage points. As a result, the company would make more money and be in a better position to understand the dynamics driving the process.
I oversimplified the description of the solution. I’m not an expert in XML, partly because the entire manual cycle is very large and I cannot reproduce it here. What are important is the concept and the knowledge that not only IBM could use such a tool, but any company facing an endeavor of complex magnitude would find its benefits worth the purchase price.
I offer my initial perspective here so that others on the team can comment accordingly. There are probably market forces that could help support a development effort provided we could present a plan for the deliverable.
I need your advice and thoughts in verifying my concept of XML. I believe that XML and associated XML Schemas provide a powerful mapping capability allowing new inferences and discoveries about stored information. The ability to manipulate knowledge leads to powerful new ways to understand the dynamics of studied processes.
The trend is for most applications to support XML as a file format. Most large companies use the Microsoft Office Suite or Lotus SmartSuite to manage corporate information. One of my crucial aspects of my proposal rests with the ability to take the actual content in native form and present it in XML. How well does Word’s XML capabilities support this?