Where is this all taking us? To the business of the future, which, if it wants to be successful, will have to excel at delivering luxury: tailored, feature-rich, interesting merchandise supported by personalized hand-holding service.
Now we're ready to talk about single-actor practices, starting with the word "practice."
"Process" is one of those words that used to mean two very different things. Its formal definition is as stated above: a repeatable series of well-defined steps that create predictable results, over and over again. Its informal definition: how anything gets done. Informally, sales is a process, eating dinner is a process, and watching a movie is a process.
If we want clarity, though, we need a different word for all of those ways of getting things done that aren't based on a repeatable series of steps and don't minimize the expertise needed from the people who do the work but instead rely on it.
That's what a "practice" is. Trial law is a practice. It had better be, because any trial lawyer who decides creating repeatable, predictable results is just the ticket is a trial lawyer whose clients will find themselves on the wrong side of every judgment. You don't win at trial by being predictable.
Businesses that rest their strategic futures on winning and retaining affluent customers will rely on practices more than processes to organize their work, because practices are what let you tailor, customize, make exceptions easily, and otherwise provide personalized service.
A lot of those practices will be single-actor practices -- practices organized so that one employee, supported by technology, can do whatever needs to get done (don't bother Googling it -- it's my term and isn't in wide use yet). Why? Because organizing a practice with just a single actor maximizes consistency and minimizes the amount of coordination needed. When the practice involves direct contact with customers, it's also more personal.
Law will continue to be a practice. In health care, the affluent will make increasing use of "concierge care" services, no matter what direction reform goes for the rest of us. Retailers might provide personal shoppers.
In the business-to-business world, the role is already well known -- it's what account managers do. Account management is a single-actor practice because exposing a high-value client to anything else might easily lose the account.
Lean, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints will still be around to help businesses who sell to everyone else. But the ones who want to grow a lot will go where the money is.
Which leaves quite a few unanswered questions: We know what IT looks like when we're supporting business processes, but support for single-actor practices is terra incognita.
This story, "Why the future of IT rests on one person," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.