Unisys touts blueprint for collaboration

Former BearingPoint consultants Vince Kasten and Ralph Welborn were practising what they preach when they left the company to join Unisys.

Former BearingPoint consultants Vince Kasten and Ralph Welborn were practising what they preach when they left the company to join Unisys.

The pair are using a book they co-wrote while at BearingPoint, The Jericho Principle, to promote “business blueprinting”, a Unisys initiative for making sure IT matches an organisation’s business vision. The book is about collaboration, which New York-based Kasten says is what the pair are doing with Unisys.

According to Kasten, he and Welborn ended up departing the consultancy for the IT company after a meeting at Microsoft at which Welborn encountered a kindred spirit from Unisys.

“He rang me in a break at the meeting and said there’s this guy here who’s saying the sort of things we’re saying.”

They introduced each other and within a few months Kasten and Welborn had become partners in a Unisys business transformation team.

Their role today is to explain to organisations the need to codify their processes so that they can be aligned with potential collaborators. Increasing collaboration, aided and abetted by the internet, is a response to competition in dynamic markets, the pair say.

“The premise is that rapidly shifting economic and technology conditions create dynamic opportunities for mutual benefit through closer alignment of activities and processes,” they write.

But collaboration can take many forms and is inherently risky, both aspects which they proceed to describe. Among the pitfalls can be the split allegiances of staff from collaborating organisations, and identity questions.

Identity was a recurring question in one of the best-known local collaborative experiments, between Telecom, EDS and Microsoft, which lasted about two years. They formed esolutions, a “virtual” company, in 2000 as an application service provider for Microsoft Office. But the unorthodox arrangement was slow to establish itself as a moneymaker; the virtual eventually became real when esolutions’ 65 staff were made part of Telecom’s advanced solutions group.

Kasten says collaborations which founder commonly do so because the underlying business opportunity was a non-starter. That would seem a reasonable explanation for esolutions’ fate: the three partners were attempting to be pioneers of the ASP software delivery model, which has so far failed to take hold. When esolutions remade itself as an e-commerce infrastructure company, it ceased to need software and services partners, and logically was folded back into Telecom.

Collaboration is just as relevant to the public sector as private, Kasten believes. So does a parliamentary committee which has been delving into reasons for delays in completion of a project — being undertaken by Unisys — for delivery of online access to legislation. The committee called last month for government departments to share IT resources to a greater extent.

Any successful collaboration depends on partnering organisations being able to mesh their processes, say Kasten and Welborn. That is a matter of taking knowledge about business processes and codifying it into meaningful units that can be reused. “Business blueprinting” is Unisys’ approach to the problem.

“Our mantra is reuse before buy, buy before build, and build for reuse,” said the head of the company’s enterprise transformation services unit — and Kasten and Welborn’s boss — Joe McGrath, when revealing the concept in June.

Unisys’ own industry expertise combined with technologies such as J2EE, .Net, web services, UML (unified modelling language), BPEL (business process execution language), XML and application development and modelling tools from IBM’s Rational division form the foundation of business blueprinting, McGrath says.

“That platform enables what we do,” he says.

Unisys New Zealand’s Richard Cheeseman, who was shepherding Kasten around the country late last month, says local staff are being taught the intricacies of blueprinting before taking the idea out to customers.

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