"A chain of events"...an interconnected series of phenomenon that lead to some outcome... enterprise applications are changing and both businesses and vendors are starting to see the series of changes in motion. I don't believe though, that we know yet what the "end game" is really. This past year or so I started trying to understand what the next generation enterprise platforms might look like and have some ideas. There are a few things that seem obvious to me at this point. For example next generation EA platforms must have embedded social (or relationship) capabilities as systems of relationship drive new ways for employees to collaborate. The same is true of analytics, which need to exist in the context of business decision processes.
As a part of the next generation it's possible that the definition of applications is also changing. Over the past 10 years vendors have broken apps down into smaller and smaller modules. In fact, as the apps get more modular it's possible to think of the underlying services as the apps themselves. This modularization, which I've written about before, is an important change in how apps are sold and consumed. Breaking apps down to the services and consuming the service (or maybe the process), particularly when we're looking at SaaS apps, has some advantages. In that scenario businesses could more easily assemble services into broader processes that were a much closer fit to the specific business need. The opposite could also be true though, the business could use specific services to solve an emerging need, and then discontinue its use when the situation is resolved.
One of the most significant challenges that businesses face today is dealing with issues that fall outside of current processes and systems. These ad hoc problems happen much more frequently than one might imagine and require human intervention to resolve. As such they take an inordinate amount of company resources to deal with. Systems of relationship are part of the solution to handling ad hoc issue resolution, facilitating identifying and assembling the "right" team of employees with the necessary skills to most effectively find a resolution. Systems of relationship can also help identify information and data that can support the resolution process. What's missing though, is the ability to bring specific systems into play to support the team in its efforts. These supporting systems could be systems of decision or systems of transactions, depending on the specific issue. If a business employs the sense and respond business model, this need is even more acute. S&R is built on the concept of flexibility of input, analysis and response or output.
The need for apps that can support ad hoc problem solving and S&R models then, is for small, "bite size" apps that are flexible enough to be end user defined and configured. That sounds simple, but has not proven so in the past. Most enterprise apps are designed to support a predefined process and to do so for the foreseeable future. In other words they are not designed with a high degree of flexibility as a design principal. Changing them is difficult and costly. This is very true of on premise apps, but in truth SaaS apps are not really much more flexible by design. The other legacy design issue is complexity. Again, most enterprise apps today are not designed with simplicity in mind, instead they are designed to automate work and hold to a process. Both of these design principals presuppose that the inputs, process and desired outcomes are understood up front. As you can see, this is a problem when dealing with an ad hoc problem or issue, it's not something that can necessarily be predicted with any accuracy so how does one build a system to help with it's resolution?
To meet this need, several concepts have to come together. There is a need for an apps platform that allows employees / teams to rapidly define a new app, configure it and use it to solve a problem or series of problems, then dispose of it and move on to the next issue. To some extent some business process management (BPM) platforms have this capability, but it's limited to processes or workflows. BPM platforms can't provide a disposable, ad hoc system of decision, as they are not built on an analytics platform. Most ad hoc issues are not tied to a need for a new or different business process, instead they are the core of the sense and respond process.
New platforms are evolving and will continue to do so over the next few years as more businesses need systems that can support S&R models and the ability to deal with ad hoc issues. Salesforce Force platform supports rapid app development, which is at least part of the solution. VMware is also making progress from a platform approach. Citrix recently bough Podio, which provides a very interesting platform for providing a system of relationship with the ability to build ad hoc apps. The product is still fairly new but it does have a lot of promise. Oracle's new cloud platform offering could also be a potential solution, but it's perhaps to early to say. The other interesting platform that I have looked at recently is a new analytics platform from Unit4. The platform provides the capability to built hoc analytic apps quickly and easily, and operates in a business model that supports the concept of flexible, disposable analytic apps.
A lot of change is underway in the apps business, change that is necessary to provide more effective tools for managing and optimizing businesses in the new information driven business environment. Change is hard, and there are still a lot of open questions. The need for providing a set of completely flexible, end user definable and configurable, and disposable apps to support ad hoc problem solving will help define the next generation of enterprise apps.