What is Modern?

Rumors have SAP joining the stampede to HTML5 based user interfaces. To get there, SAP will build a new platform, replacing the $4 billion platform underneath Business-By-Design. HTML5 is the current technology for a “modern” user interface, filling the role Windows GUI and Java Applets played in the past. When the next user interface technologies arise HTML5 too will fade into the legacy technology graveyard.

Hopefully modern means more than the user interface technology of the moment. At HarrisData we believe modern means something other than the technology under the covers. [ed. We are delivering HTML5, CSS, JavaScript frameworks over a REST based API, but that is for another post]. We believe a modern system enables an age of robots, where most business transactions are executed through robot to robot processes monitored and controlled by knowledge workers. The first criteria of a modern system enables the productivity and ease of use introduced by the consumerization of business technology via smart phones and tablets. This provides people with control over the robots, using knowledge to keep data flowing throughout the organization. The second criteria take advantage of flexibility and ease of interconnection created by and needed for the cloud, web storefronts, and supply or demand chains. In most cases, these applications are computer to computer and do not have a user interface per se. The range of information requested / provided is similar to what a human clerk would need. We expect that robots will take over most data entry, calculation, and distribution. The full capability of the modern application does not require or depend upon the user interface technology, it is meant for robots with human oversight.

The human element in a modern system benefits from the consumerization trend of smart phones and tablets. Consider the tablet based shopping experience. Not long ago a consumer would find a part number in a paper catalog, call the order desk and dictate the order or mail the order form to an order clerk for entry processing. Later on the consumer may call the order desk to ask when the order might arrive. Today a consumer browses an online catalog and clicks on items to fill the shopping cart, then clicks to checkout. No data is typed in by the consumer, although item quantities may be adjusted or alternate shipping addresses added on an exception basis. The web storefront sends the order to the fulfillment system and relays order and shipping status for the consumer to browse at their leisure. Most of the action is robot to robot behind the scenes, with the consumer able to track, respond to notices, and adjust as needed. This is a profound change in the process, with various data clerks replaced by robots. The role of the user interface is to provide process control, not the traditional data entry of old style applications.

The modern user interface must perform tasks as consumers do. Clerical tasks (data entry, edit, load) will be performed by robots unless on an exception basis, so are a minor concern for the user interface. Control tasks are the focus. When controlling the robots, simple actions combined with feedback of robot activity provide instant gratification to the knowledge worker. Standard consumer activities such as bookmark, link, search, schedule, notify, and fix on the fly enable control. Add work flow to allow knowledge workers with greater understanding or authority to perform their part in the process. Let the robots perform the repetitive tasks behind the scenes, with activity counters and alerts to ease monitoring. Customizable content (change display fields without programming) allows knowledge workers to fine tune the controls and reduce clutter. Provide drill down capabilities for knowledge workers to investigate problems causing alerts. Include all robot to robot activity in audit trails to ensure processes operate properly.

The bulk of traditional work becomes robot to robot in a modern application. This requires a separate interface – the API – to enable automated processes. The API must include all the capabilities of the application from entry and edit to query and search (the API supports the user interface(s) too). The web storefront needs to be able to query order status, edit order details, and search for all the consumer’s orders. In order to interconnect with other robots, the API needs to support multiple standards such as JSON, SOAP, or even spreadsheets. The web storefront and a big box retail supply chain system may use different technologies, the application needs to support both sales channels. Entity and transaction import processes allow external robots to feed into the application, with knowledge worker notification and control. The web storefront or CRM need to feed the application new customer information as well as order transactions. Strong security protocols along with data encryption must be implemented behind the API so that access and activities are limited to authorized robots and tasks. This structure allows the modern application to participate in the cloud – even if it is located on your premises.

The modern application provides a very different world. No longer is the focus on data entry and validating user input — information is being sent electronically from one system to another. Applications help the users monitor and control information as it flows thought the organization. Users have the opportunity to spend more time understanding (and improving) business processes – becoming knowledge workers.

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