Prior to the beginnings of Internet-based e-commerce, the computer was essentially a filing cabinet, handling the affairs of the back office, programmed under the file clerk metaphor: capture, storage, and retrieval of records.
Today, however, we are not only seeing Sun Microsystems’ early vision that the network is the computer, now we can observe that the network is the business !
To participate in the digital economy, the business tasks we must ask of computers move from the back office record keeping to the frontline operations of the business. We are automating very different kinds of things : business processes and workflows which are human, knowledge-based phenomena; and opening our core business systems for direct interaction with customers, suppliers, and sometimes with competitors (i.e. the airline industry combining flights to complete an itinerary). New forms of pervasive communications have allowed forward thinking business people to blur industry boundaries and create virtual corporations whose core competencies are information and knowledge management, taking much of the operational information once in workers’ heads and codifying it into executable software.
The new realities of business have created new imperatives for business information systems. Today’s business systems must provide enterprise (and inter-enterprise) reach so that islands of disparate information can be integrated into a meaningful whole. They must be able to cope with the overwhelming complexity of distributed technology and an inter-enterprise information base. They must be open to survive in a network-centric ecosystem. Rapid applications development goes without saying, and applications must be designed to embrace constant change. Business systems must be knowledge-based (not just information-based) if they are to cope with the incompleteness and ambiguity of real business processes and workflows. And they must be adaptive to meet the needs of the moment and bring productivity to an increasingly overwhelmed business user, and self-service to our customers. That’s what is being asked of IS today, a very tall order.
Both Business Process Management (BPM) technology and agent paradigms focus on addressing change and complexity. Intelligent agent technology is the next logical step in moving the BPM technology paradigm forward and overcoming some of its shortcomings. Both technologies have been around for quite a while but only now are they being repurposed for business in response to a rapidly changing world.[…]