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Learning from the Greats – Henry Ford and the lessons for implementing visionary 21st century software platforms

I was recently reading an article about the history of Henry Ford’s famous Assembly Line and I found it very inspirational. I have always enjoyed learning about historical figures and the titans of industry that helped shape the way we live today. There are great lessons to be learned from the wisdom they displayed. Habits they pioneered are often just as applicable today as they were in their prime. The key highlights I took away from my reading about Ford were:

  1. It is important to have a goal/vision – Ford wanted to build “motor car[s] for the great multitude”
  2. Establish principles and follow them – Ford had four principles: interchangeable parts, continuous flow, division of labor, and reduce wasted effort
  3. Realize the benefits incrementally – He did not wait for the fully functional assembly line before using his advances to improve his processes. He implemented changes in smaller advances
  4. Break the big challenge down to smaller manageable steps – Ford broke down automobile assembly into 84 discrete steps
  5. Use automation to optimize where possible and reduce complex human tasks as much as possible

All those points have as much relevance in the IT world of today as they did in the early 1900s for the fledgling automotive industry. The longevity of Ford’s approach to process optimization is very admirable and as I read about his accomplishments I wanted to try to emulate some of his best practices in my professional career.

It was with that reverence as context that I began to review a project that I have been heavily involved in over the past year. Working at Ness, I have been driving an effort to create industry frameworks that can be used to aggregate best of breed technologies and create niche business solutions that can be easily integrated into these base frameworks. I looked at each of the 5 points I took away from studying Ford and tried to draw parallels in our approach

  1. The key motivation of these frameworks was to create platforms that allow many business solutions to plug and play in an integrated and synergistic yet independent manner
  2. To accomplish the goal, principles were applied:
    • Interchangeable modules – each business solution follows a contract (set of APIs) that allows it to be swapped out for a newer version or one from a different vendor
    • Continuous flow using the platform for orchestration – Business solutions serve the customer’s needs at appropriate times in their experience with the organization. The use of a central platform to provide access to all solutions and centralize the data used throughout provides a continuous flow for the customer
    • Division of labor – BPM flows are used to break the work down in to discrete tasks and assign it to the right individuals at the right time
    • Reducing wasted effort – integration to core systems and external vendors are built once and shared by all business solutions. Data is shared as much as possible to prevent rekeying and duplicate capture
  3. Implementing our solutions incrementally was necessary to gain market. Our solutions need to be something organizations could choose to select from piecemeal. Implementing any business solution individually is always the best first option. It allows the platform foundation (the integration to master data systems) to be set while quickly adding the value of the first business solution. Future business solutions are then able to piggy back on the platform foundation to accelerate their implementation.
  4. Business solutions are often complex processes. To penetrate that complexity, our solutions break down the functionality of all processes into simple, discrete steps and services. This allows for greater flexibility. Flexibility that is realized in the ability to swap out one service provider for another as well as flexibility in the way that services are invoked and orchestrated to optimize the business solution, and ultimately the customer journey.
  5. Looking to optimize the opportunities for automation our solutions leverage BPM as a key component of the foundation. BPM technology is used to automate process tasks. Additionally, third party resources are used to automate complex business tasks.

The Ness platform approach is to build solutions in a way that truly encourages reuse. As the initial framework was being built out, it was very apparent that there were additional advantages that were being realized. By creating a framework based hub, with a common data representation and an integration mechanism into core client systems, we could achieve some great synergies across business challenges. For example, in our financial services platform, the Know Your Customer (KYC) module was a window into a wealth of data that has relevance to Customer Servicing, Marketing, and Sales. A follow up effort currently under development is a fraud investigation module which leverages the comprehensive customer profile to enrich the data available to fraud investigators.  Key benefits for fraud investigations include:

  • Accessing a data set that is much greater than that of a typical fraud investigation
  • Allowing pre-emptive detection through analytics to determine high risk individuals or scenarios based on enhanced due diligence data in the customer KYC profile
  • Shortening investigation times by utilizing pre-fetched and scored data with tasks such as de-duplicating and eliminating false data already performed

The technical synergies presented are based on integration capabilities made available because of the discrete services developed during the KYC solution implementation. The KYC solution required access to client Customer Information Systems, Product Systems, and external vendors such as credit bureaus. These integrations are all relevant to fraud investigations and since they are built on the same platform and share a common data dictionary they can plug and play as needed.

After reviewing all that we have accomplished and looking for lessons to glean from the incredible accomplishments of Ford, I was comforted in knowing that there was enough similarity in approach to feel like we are on the right track. Ford’s contributions to American industry changed the habits of a Nation and helped shaped its character. Our goals were much more modest. But I’d like to think that if Ford had built a software integration platform, it would have looked a lot like ours.

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