Process automation or information access?

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If you took a minute to read my previous entry (The Endeca thing) you’ll remember that I introduced the idea that there is a new class of applications that we are just starting to acknowledge: applications that are more about information access than they are about process automation. What I realized a few days after posting is that these two are not mutually exclusive, and that this may require a bit more explanation.

When I refer to process automation I am thinking of scenarios for which: A) we know the steps to follow to do whatever it is we are trying to do and B) the information associated with the execution of the process is by en large known and its structure well understood.

When I refer to information access situations I am thinking about scenarios for which: A) the process is either trivial or secondary to getting the job done, B) searching and analyzing gobs of information that can come from a broad set of sources and C) making trade-offs/decisions based on what is learned through the searching/discovering/analyzing.

So, clearly we can think of examples that fit either of these two models. For example, placing an order on-line when you know what you want to buy is very much a process automation situation; but deciding what to buy and selecting what you put in the “shopping cart” is more of a information access situation.

Yet, and this is the punch-line of this post:

Business applications are rarely purely one or the other. More often business applications are a combination of both process automation and information access. The better question is then: which of these two aspects is the prevalent one at different stages of user interaction with the application.

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