If, on the other hand, we're designing the system for a for-profit (as opposed to anti-profit) provider, we'd do something quite different. The magic buzz phrase in life insurance is "case management," and it's a fine example of a hub-and-spoke practice.
In our hypothetical system, when the beneficiary or executor of a high-value customer contacts us to begin the claims process, something in the system recognizes their high-value status and routes their call to a case manager.
Case managers look a lot like single-actor practitioners. They have access to the various systems the company uses to manage the items in a client's financial portfolio along with the complete account history. They're highly trained, with financial planning credentials, and can offer to transfer ownership of the investment products without cashing them out if that makes the most sense for the beneficiaries. They can also invest whatever cash payouts are due, either in short-term vehicles until the beneficiaries are ready to deal with financial matters or in longer-term vehicles if they prefer, and so on.
The case manager would keep the insurance agent who worked with the high-value customer in the loop if that agent is still active, and might even turn over case management responsibility to the insurance agent if he/she is active and has a strong relationship with the family. Whoever it is, the case manager is responsible for establishing and developing a relationship with the beneficiaries in order to keep as much of what they're inheriting as possible under the life insurance company's management.
Case managers aren't truly single-actor practitioners, though; in addition to having access to all of the relevant information systems needed to work with the beneficiaries, they have access to the company's back-office processes, not all of which are fully automated. That is, case managers are the hub of activity. The company's systems and processes are the spokes.
Should we call this sort of practice a single-actor practice? I'd say yes, and since I coined the term, I win. If you don't like it, sue me. Contact a good lawyer -- and you'll find that most lawyers operate as the hub of a hub-and-spoke-style single-actor practice, too.
That gets us to stage three: team practices. In IT we're used to these, although we haven't used the terminology. Every time we organize an application development or application integration team, they engage in a practice -- not a process. It doesn't matter whether you use waterfall methodologies, RUP (Rational Unified Process), eXtreme, Scrum, kanban, or Conference Room Pilot. They're all practices, not processes.
Let's hope they stay that way. If we truly managed to turn application development into a process, everyone would just faithfully follow the recipe and a great application would always come out of the oven.
I trust this sounds as dreary to you as it does to me.
This story, "The new business mandate for IT," 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.