Thursday, August 11, 2011

Paradigms in Management Automation

Computer technologies have been used to automate organization management since the 1950s. With such a long time of application, many things have changed in those sixty years. However, until now very little research was done to analyze this history.

Together with my friend and colleague from Donetsk National Technical University (DNTU), Maxim Privalov, I studied that topic. We found that the evolution of management automation is often viewed either as the progress in computer hardware (mainframes, PCs, LANs, Internet, mobile devices, etc.) or software programming (machine codes and assemblers, and procedural, object-oriented, component-oriented, service-oriented, intelligent agents). But those things are quite different from management automation and shall not be mixed up. Instead, we studied how management automation progressed along with technology.

After analysis we were able to see three distinct patterns or paradigms in management automation from the beginning until today.

1. 1950s - 1980s. Centralized (or Center-Oriented) Paradigm.

According to our analysis this is the starting point of management automation. Computer technologies just appeared. Their reliability was very low and their price was too high. Computers were concentrated in centralized locations called Data Processing Centers, and elite groups of engineers developed management automation systems addressing overall organization problems. Specific needs of individual users were that not that important. The Data Processing Center users just used whatever was available and provided information by sending requests and receiving responses. Initially, it was through paper batches. Later terminals let users do that directly.

2. 1980s-1990s. Function-Oriented Paradigm.

When the quality of computer technologies and the understanding of how to use them improved and reached a certain level, a need to make automation more affordable and targeted toward individual needs emerged. With the arrival of the Personal Computer (PC) the cost of automation significantly went down, and automation changed its focus towards the specific functions of individuals and groups.

3. Late 1990s-Now. Process-Oriented Paradigm.

Over a relatively short period of time a large amount of systems were created, which nearly covered all areas of organization management. However, they were not designed to work together. Integration problems and the need to share information and to collaborate together triggered another paradigm shift toward processes. Today, to help with systems integration, functions have to be exposed through services and then orchestrated into business processes. These processes have put structure into the previously fuzzy interactions and have made integration possible.

Analyzing this last pattern of management automation further, we found that the current Process-Oriented paradigm is reaching its limit. Processes clearly have problems with scalability, flexibility, and transparency.There are emerging needs for higher management efficiency and transparency, more comprehensive and deeper automation, and the integration of robots and Artificial Intelligence. This is triggering a new shift. Realizing this and researching further, we predicted that the next shift will be toward a new Goal-Oriented paradigm.

4. Future. Goal-Oriented Paradigm.

This new paradigm will preserve functions and processes. However, the automation focus will  shift toward business goals. Processes will just remain as prescribed patterns to achieve them, and the automation will carry out the processes to reach end goals.

The evolutionary shift towards the Goal-Orientation paradigm has already begun. I’ll write more about that development in my coming posts.

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