The age of ‘continuous’ business

Companies used to work to annual targets with quarterly milestones, but that tempo has changed.
14 January 2019

Is your company keeping pace with continuous business? Source: Shutterstock

The title of this piece should really be the age of ‘Continuous’ business with a capital C, such has been the technology industry’s drive to create continuously updated information systems and the component pieces that go into them.

Indeed, Continuous Development (CD) and Continuous Deployment (CD) have now become recognized industry terms and acronyms.

But let’s go back to basics and ask what we really mean by continuous in the context of current software applications, cloud services, and data services.

Continuous is always-on

Our contemporary notion of continuous computing has come about for a number of key reasons. Not least of these is the presence of the Facebook platform.

There was a possibly apocryphal statement made somewhere at the start of this decade, which suggested that Facebook ‘deploys’ around 15 times a day. That is to say, Facebook shifts out and deploys new features to its core platform almost every hour.

Users don’t notice this deployment, because they’re quite happy viewing the particular page of Facebook that they happen to have initiated by asking their web browser to ‘view their story’ (or whatever term Facebook is using these days) at any single point in time.

Facebook is, of course, just one example out of possibly many thousands of online cloud-centric platforms and more individual web application services that work this way.

In the age of internet feeds and cloud computing, the application (or platform in this case) can be updated at the backend while the front-end graphical user interface (GUI) stays running… even if the GUI itself is relying on a certain degree of ‘cached’ data during what is a continuous deployment update.

Business changed, did you notice?

If online platforms and constantly updating smartphone apps is one of the reasons we’re now in the continuous world, then there’s another core purely business-related reason we have to move at the new speedy cadence as well.

Business used to work year-on-year, but even that tempo has changed.

Companies used to work to annual targets with quarterly milestones. Firms used to look forward to the Microsoft Office [insert year here] and various other elements of the total business program, which would all be marked out by their yearly position on the highly popular Gregorian calendar.

We still all ‘look forward’ to annual accounts and quarterly reports, but the core business cycle has significantly sped up.

Today we find firms setting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) based on individual projects, months, weeks and days. Some jobs are even analyzed based upon the status of an individual workflow ‘ticket’ (as in service ticket request) today.

All of this means that the pace of work runs massively faster than it used to and that it is measured and analyzed in significantly smaller incremental steps.

All well and good then… but will we be able to cope and what kinds of (predominantly software-based) tools and methodologies will we need to keep our head above water in this new world?

Using digital workflows

In a word, it’s all about orchestration.

We can now use orchestration platforms (and many vendors specifically self-identify in this precise space) to corral, coalesce and combine the elements of data and application components we need to make continuous computing happen.

We can make orchestration happen more fluidly if we start to segment business processes into workflows.

Although this is a story that warrants an individual analysis in its own right, the use of workflows (we’d now increasingly call them digital workflows) allows us to denote actions that workers (and machines) need to take in order for defined business process to happen.

For want of a formalized definition, a workflow is a collection of steps that are routed to deliver actions (often called ‘performers’) for a defined business objective and specific business process.

When we tie down our workflows and their sub-components, so-called ‘nested workflows’ (we told you workflows was a subject in and of itself— a nested workflow occurs when you have a workflow that has a small subset of steps and is then connected to another workflow) and bring in the right type of automation intelligence, then we can start to achieve continuous business with a capital C.