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According to a survey of 140 API management professionals and enterprise technology architects conducted by Layer 7 Technologies, 86.5 percent of organizations will have an API program in place in the next five years, and 43.2 percent of organizations have an API solution implemented today. Why? Because leading technologists understand that access to the data generated by all of today’s systems and users of those systems is a special type of currency that can be used to create even more meaningful systems and solutions. Leading business minds understand that opening up products as platforms to be built upon, using that special currency, can deepen the roots and increase the switching costs for their customers.

Executives and managers are continually tasked with the responsibility to increase profitability. Information technology, while traditionally considered a cost center of the enterprise, is changing the way it delivers its services and is slowly becoming a profit center and a source of significant strategic advantage. How is this happening? Integration and automation.

Erik Brynjolfsson, an MIT professor and director of the MIT Center for Digital Business, recently provided a meaningful analogy to the information age in his February 2013 TED Talk “The Key to Growth? Race with the Machines.” In that talk, Brynjolfsson analyzes the electrification of American factories that ignited the second industrial revolution. For 30 years, productivity levels had remained stagnant as the first generation of managers exposed to the new technology simply replaced existing pieces of the factory with new electric parts. The second generation of managers took the real next step, which was to invent new work processes and redesigned factories leading to a doubling and even tripling of productivity in those factories. Brynjolfsson further explained electricity as a “general purpose technology” similar to the steam engine before it. General purpose technologies are especially significant to economic growth due to the plethora of complementary technologies that arise because of it, such as the lightbulb.

I agree with Brynjolfsson that the computer is the general purpose technology of our era. I also agree with Brynjolfsson in that we have been acting just like those managers in the first generation following the advent of electricity who have simply replaced pieces of the process instead of rethinking the business processes and redesigning the factory.

So how do we redesign the factory and change the way we think about business processes in our era of rapidly advancing computing power? How do we take the step that the second generation of managers did during the second industrial revolution that will allow us to realize the productivity gains promised from the rise of the computer?

Big data is not the problem

I can’t count the number of times I have heard people position their products to solve the big data problem that will enable us to save time and money. When I hear that, I know that they are failing to capture the macro-view, and that their solution will likely still suffer from the real problem that is workflow, or process management. The fact that we now have more data on more things than ever before is not a problem, but a product of the evolution of the general purpose technology that we have been working through evolutions of over the last 30 years. Similar to redesigning the factory and rethinking the processes, we need to redesign how we handle data, how we access that data, and how we structure process to allow for the right people to interact with the right data at the right time.

Redesigning the factory

While factories during the second industrial revolution were comprised of conveyor belts and sorting mechanisms, the factories of our era are comprised of processors, flash memory, and fiberoptics. We have seen the trend of this redesign manifested in “The Cloud” and all of its promises, many of which are extremely valid and critical to how we will complete the redesign and realize the productivity and ultimately economic gains waiting for us on the other side.

Through this new factory we can more easily codify and replicate business processes over and over again. We can have computers provide services at efficiency and cost levels that are drastically beyond the capacity of a skilled worker.

Rethinking business processes

Hand in hand with the factory redesign comes the analysis and optimization of process given the new tools. We can’t just insert computers at different points and expect productivity to increase, that is simple replacement. Rather, we need to consider the needs of the task, the necessary human components of that task, and how the technology can be used to reduce the human component as much as possible, and amplify the human component to achieve productivity rates beyond what would be possible by the human alone.

Realizing the promised productivity gains of our era

As more and more organizations redesign their factory and rethink their business processes, there will be an increasing need for a complementary technology that will enable organizations to rapidly deploy new business processes and report on their effectiveness. The pieces of the puzzle exist as our CRM systems, ERP systems, and other business critical technologies. The cycle of refinement will continue where the analysis of the process will call for rapid small adjustments to the process until we truly begin to realize the doubling and tripling of productivity that our era is waiting for. This is the primary reason why I joined the team at I believe that business process automation platforms like will provide that glue that can bring all of these disparate systems together and help us achieve productivity gains, similar to the second industrial revolution. With these platforms we can rapidly create and adjust process to meet our needs, and not rely on out of the box solutions that many time pin us to structure process in a way contrary to the design of our factory.

The codification and replication of business processes that leverage the general purpose technology of our era will require additional structure and capability around integration methods. We need to automate processes across multiple systems. One object passed through multiple systems to accomplish one task with limited or should I say, optimized human interaction.

Kevin is a Crocker Innovation fellow from Brigham Young University who is currently serving as director of sales and marketing at workflow software vendor You can find him on Twitter @GrowthHackerGuy

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