Big Chief Tablet Apps
This network world link brought to mind a recurring problem I find in business. People tend to apply a familiar information model to every new problem. The old paper tablet is a favorite. You can scribble notes and pictures on it without delay and the most current information is right on top. Also, when the information ages or otherwise becomes problematic, you just lose it--no audit trail. I call this type application "The Big Chief Tablet App".
A real Application manages the entire problem. The application should:
- Check incoming data for reasonableness.
- Apply the business rules for the data flow
- Make the data available to in the appropriate way to all of the data stakeholders. That is only allow the viewing and editing controls specific to each particular user.
Sometimes a new project is undertaken and the business rules are not all known in advance. The "tablet" tools are taken up to deal with the immediate problem and then remain in place for too long. There is no analysis of the process. The process is reinvented over and over again because the data cannot be analyzed effectively in an unstructured environment. Ultimately the project will either fail, or consume so many resources that it damages the business.
There are many computer applications people use as "Big Chief Tablet" Apps:
- E-mail - Don't use e-mail as your document database. Most e-mail clients have something of a document database, but it is unlikely that the very generic e-mail application will fit database requirements.
- Spreadsheets - with spreadsheets it's easy to create 2 dimensional, row and column databases. Modern spreadsheets can easily import from other databases. However, they are almost impossible to audit for a long term project. Also, it's hard to share data simultaneously in a spreadsheet, so what occurs is multiple (but slightly different) copies of the same database are spread throughout the organization. At that point, the integrity of the data cannot be assured.
- Phone Apps. An application on a phone or electronic tablet can wonderfully convenient, but unless it is designed to fit into the rest of the business process, it is likely to be just another way to create a private database. Private databases of e-mail, spreadsheets and phone apps make sharing data in real-time difficult.
So while all of the applications are fine tools, including the original Big Chief Tablet, they are not a substitute for a full enterprise application. The application that address the full problem will manage the collaboration of all users and also manage the flow and integrity of the data, while requiring the least effort from the least number of people. The enterprise application can perform in this way because a team of people, including at least one software developer, has worked through the entire process and codified it into a system. The process of refining such an application can take decades because most business processes become more complicated over time as more laws are promulgated and each success brings new demands. So be careful not to fall into the trap of solving a very involved problem with a familiar but inadequate tool, and do not be beguiled by the shiny phone app in the cloud that promises to solve all your problems.