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Make Business, Not Engineering

Posted by Reghunathan Sukumara Pillai (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:24 AM


Most Indian IT companies have strategized, developed, branded, sold, implemented and established products & solutions catering to various industries and used by clients all over the world. Given the strength of Indian engineering skills, and good career options in that area, the Indian IT industry's commitment to exploring and building products is not surprising.  While a few products go on to attain maturity and leadership, many others struggle to gain acceptance. The Banking and Financial sector is full of complex IT solutions for core banking, insurance, Asset Liability Management, prevention of money laundering, etc. Such products and solutions must be easily deployable, and have the right features meeting the needs of the target market.

In this case, product development is more challenging than say in the services industry, where the client provides the business requirements and IT is only responsible for development, punctuated by periodic validation and checking by the client. This is because here, IT must also have the business/market/technical understanding to build the right product or solution meeting global market requirements. Continuous research and development is required to enhance product features and usability in line with market demands and changing technology needs.

The product development is mostly seen as an engineering art rather than the skill of a business analyst who possesses comprehensive domain & market knowledge. The role of the business analyst is perceived as a support function compared to that of the core engineering team member who designs and develops the offering. 

A few products have not penetrated the target market in spite of the best efforts; these may be branded as "engineering" rather than "business" products. Engineers develop lines of code based on a requirements analysis, to create functionality but not with necessary consumer connect.

It requires specialized skills to modify an engineering product into one with a "business" outlook. There might be a need to change the user interface, or incorporate business language and international terminologies. Sometimes changes cannot be effected because of technology constraints. As a result, even though the breadth of business functionality is available, users don't adopt because of the unfriendly user interface or lack of navigability. The complexity increases manifold when more and more processes are logically added into the solution with defined workflows. Contacting the IT helpdesk or vendor for help with capturing data or finding the right business functions may not always be feasible. 

A product is usually driven by architecture that would have been conceptualized a while ago. Hence any later developments would need to be designed within the existing framework. The lines of code are built within the framework, which will take priority over usability and other client considerations. When compared to a service industry requirement where development can be explored based on the latest architecture and technologies, the product industry is aligned to technological and architectural considerations, which were envisaged at the concept stage and development of business functionality is accommodated within the technology framework. It is also not prudent to redesign the architecture in a shorter span of time or develop new solutions on similar business lines. 

The longevity and maturity of the product can be measured by its global coverage, integration and architectural flexibility, usability, roadmap and vision. All these factors are synonymous with a business offering rather than an engineering product.

To conclude, the IT industry should develop business products rather than engineering products by pooling expertise from multiple areas and focusing on the following:

a) Business/functionality 
b) Usability and unified  user interface across multiple screens
c) Technological/architectural flexibility
d) Inbuilt business processes arranged logically and sequentially 
e) Interface/middleware architecture for ready plug and play 
f) Regulatory compliance 
g) Online help and easily understandable functions for business users 
h) Use of industry standard terminologies
i) Easy to understand documentation and user manuals 

Achieving this comprehensive product vision requires experienced business analysts with profound domain skills and sound technical knowledge. They can analyze the requirement and provide key inputs at various stages of the product life cycle. These should not only be restricted to business inputs that help in coding but also consider design, usability and testing. The product should be customer oriented and forward looking. Until that happens, IT vendors will continue to develop engineering products - functional but not necessarily user friendly - with a shorter shelf life and local, rather than global appeal. Both the IT industry and engineers should develop a broader vision with a business user perspective during product development. Expecting an engineer to be available as a business user at the front office responding to customer queries and interpreting the lines of codes (with limited knowledge available) built by another engineer may not be an ideal situation for the IT industry. The success of a product lies both in a strong engineering foundation to support current and future business functionality and a front end designed for the convenience of business users. 

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