Mission Intelligence: Let The Cycle Be Unbroken - InformationWeek

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Mission Intelligence: Let The Cycle Be Unbroken

How IT adjusts to continuous improvement cycles.

"We're never done." That's how Richard Martino, senior vice president of market information and research at US Bank, describes the status of his group's analytic customer relationship management projects. I talked to him at the recent SAS User Group International (SUGI) conference in San Francisco. His observation could easily serve as a motto for business and IT chiefs, as they build out their latest strategic systems and services.

In the old days of enterprise applications, "we're never done" would have been a frank, painful and pessimistic admission. It might have meant that it was time to polish the resumes. Martino, however, smiled in a Zen-like way, pleased to acknowledge his group's determination to refine and improve CRM forever. US Bank took home the 2006 SAS Enterprise Intelligence Award for its ability to mine data generated by 13 million consumer-banking customers and 1 million business customers. Never-ending modeling and mining cycles provide critical intelligence for multiple (and multichannel) US Bank marketing campaigns. Using the results along with SAS Interaction Management software, the bank can track customer behavior and let representatives know when to get in touch, especially if they become aware of anomalies or important status changes.

Data mining and CRM analysis professionals, as well as their direct business and IT management bosses, understand better than most the idea of information refinement cycles based on their experience with testing models. What's new is that this notion is spreading to other parts of organizations and affecting many more kinds of business computing. As our cover package describes, "continuous improvement" is an essential component in making business process management (BPM) a success. The boon of automated business processes can quickly become a bane if systems lock organizations into less than optimal ways of doing things.

The push toward continuous improvement represents one of the big changes afoot in applications development, as the function reorients itself for services. Certainly, design methods have long aimed at this goal; service-oriented architecture (SOA) is hardly the first time reusability has headed the list of key objectives. If you're going to reuse a service, process, application component or object, there has to be a way of continuously improving it. Nobody wants to keep chewing the same piece of gum. Stumbling blocks have had less to do with technology methods than with the institutional relationship between the business side and IT developers.

As strategic computing rises up the ladder into the business decision-maker's domain, the rules of engagement between business and IT must change. "The business side used to go to IT and say, 'I want this built,'" says Paul Patrick, chief architect at BEA Systems, which leads our annual Editors' Choice Awards selection of "The Dozen" (yes, congratulations to BEA!). "IT would give them a bill. And the months would go by as IT tried to get something built. As we implement higher-level concepts, this mode has to change."

The day may be over when IT developers can produce a system then move to other projects, to be replaced by maintenance people. Continuous improvement means that developers must stay engaged. Patrick sees this change as accentuating the role of the "architect," who not only must be adept at translating business ideas into logical models but also must be the shrewd, political go-between. And, as in other kinds of politics, the campaign can never rest.

David Stodder is the Editorial Director and Editor in Chief of Intelligent Enterprise. Write to him at [email protected].

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