Flexible Systems

Technology gives us immense access to the modern world.

But it comes at the cost of complexity, and we rely on modern enterprise systems to manage that complexity for us.

We want to focus on our top-level concerns - the collection and management of our enterprise information - and trust that the system underneath will take care of the details.

That it will store and safeguard our data, giving access to only those who are permitted; and prevent inaccurate or duplicate information from being acted on.

That it will exchange messages and interact reliably with other systems on our behalf; and report back to us if it encounters problems.

And above all, that it will be a comfortable and productive platform for collaboration, that allows us to get the very best achievements from our valuable human resources.

Flexible Architecture

But there is danger here.  Technology, and our business processes, are constantly changing.

A successful enterprise system must anticipate not only the turnover of its own platforms, but also the constant evolution and expansion of its human, legal and business operating environment.

Too often, the mechanics "under the bonnet" of a system have been thrown together to meet the original brief, but without any attention to building a flexible architecture that can adapt to changing business rules and technologies.

These systems quickly become brittle, and cannot be safely altered, for fear of disruption to operations, or of loss or exposure of data.  Loathed alike by those who use them, and by management who must devise ways to work around their faults and limitations.

Eventually, they incur such intolerable cost in lost time and opportunity that they have to be abandoned and replaced with something else, in a final ordeal of turmoil and waste.

Inner Beauty

Years ago, there was a famous campaign poster showing a young woman with her face and hair covered in tar, with the caption "if what happened on the inside happened on the outside, would you still smoke?".

This is a helpful image to keep in mind when assessing systems, because their internal structures are likewise much less visible than their pretty user interfaces.

So how can we identify a system that is blessed with a flexible architecture?  There are many signs, but these are a few to look out for:

  • Coding style - code is the essence of any system, and should be neat, well-organised and readable, to aid navigation.  Annotation should be concise and frequent, with a short comment for each code block, to aid comprehension.
  • Modularity - at every level, the codebase should be broken into compact and focused modules and functions that can be easily rearranged as the system processes evolve.
  • Consistent patterns - coded solutions should follow similar patterns, where modules with a concrete purpose share abstract foundations which may be adjusted or extended to benefit all modules at once.
  • Minimal dependencies - third-party components and libraries are a quick way to add functionality, but each brings complexity cost, risk of internal conflict, and potential future vulnerability.  They should be used sparingly and only for deep benefit.
  • Separation of concerns - modules should know everything about their task, but nothing else.  Data layers should prepare information without knowing how it will be used.  Presentation layers should display their information without knowing how it was prepared.

The Flexis Advantage

Flexible design philosophy covers all aspects of a system, making it comfortable to manage and seamless to use.  Some aspects also manifest visibly, in ways that may not at first be obvious.

Flexible web sites have adaptive stylesheets that arrange the page layout in different ways, depending on the size of the screen.  This is known as responsive design, and makes them work equally well on either desktop or mobile browsers.

Web pages should also print neatly, which may need separate styling.  You must have experienced how often this is overlooked, with sites where all attention has been paid to the screen appearance, but where they preview as an unprintable mess, making them impossible to capture on paper.

At Flexis, we take all aspects of flexible design seriously, and this web site is a good example.

If you are using a desktop browser, make the window narrow to see how the page resizes for different resolutions and reflows for a narrow mobile screen.  Use Print Preview to see how the content and text wrapping adapts perfectly for the printed page.

Flexis® is a registered trademark
Copyright © Flexis Systems Pty Ltd

“ Top performers set their goals to improve behaviors and processes rather than outcomes ”

Joseph Grenny

“ Let systems run the business and people run the systems. People come and go but the systems remain constant ”

Michael Gerber

“ Foolproof systems don’t take into account the ingenuity of fools ”

Gene Brown

“ For any business to succeed, it must first become a system so that the business functions exactly the same way every time down to the last detail ”

Rick Harshaw

“ To get the most out of systems, you have to make them a lifestyle not a one-off deal ”

John Maxwell

Flexis® is a registered trademark
Copyright © Flexis Systems Pty Ltd