A colleague pointed me to Thomas Davenport’s article in the current Harvard Business Review (June 2005. pp 101-108): The coming commoditization of business processes. He suggests:
Firms seek to standardize processes for several important reasons. Within a company, standardization can facilitate communications about how the business operates, enable smooth handoffs across process boundaries, and make possible comparative measures of performance. Across companies, standard processes can make commerce easier for the same reasons – better communications, more efficient handoffs, and performance benchmarking. Since information systems support processes, standardization allows uniform information systems within companies as well as standard systems interfaces among different firms.
This is interesting as it expresses, albeit in a different vocabulary, some of rationale for various ‘service framework’ or ‘business architecture’ activities in the library and information space in recent times. The DLF, for example, has been exploring ‘service frameworks’, a framework within which one identifies the business processes that support library goals, and a set of standardized services that realize these. (Note: I have been involved in this work and a work in progress report will soon be available).
Why is this important?
The library community has evolved a relatively standardized set of processes around its historic core. This has allowed the development of an industry which supports that core through the Integrated Library System. This in turn is because processes like cataloging, acquisitions, serials control, circulation and so on have been standardized and can be served through commoditized third party solutions.
However, as the library is beginning to evolve new processes to meet current needs, process standarization has not yet caught up.
Think of digization, metadata creation, preservation, e-resource management, institutional repository, exposing resources to search engines. There are two issues: we have not moved to a clear understanding of the set of processes which the network library will support, and those processes which are emerging are not settled enough to be standardized enough to be supported by commoditized solutions. Clearly, there is much activity in these areas, but it is not yet standardised enough to be supported by commodity or shared solutions. This means that activity is expensive and limited.
One of the main challenges to libraries in the next few years will be the move to an agreed view of the library in the network world, going beyond the set of processes which are encapsulated in the ILS, and securing standardized solutions to support these new processes.