Managing the "Long Tail" of IT Requirements

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Believe it or not, the idea of the “long tail” in economics and business has been around for ten years this month.  Chris Anderson, scientist and journalist, wrote his now-famous article, “The Long Tail” for WIRED in 2004 where he outlined what he saw as the burgeoning market of niche product availability thanks to the internet.  

For example, you can find any number of books or DVDs on that you cannot find in a brick-and-mortar store like Barnes and Noble.  The new releases and best sellers which make up the “head” of Anderson’s graph do account for a lot of sales, but the “long tail” of classic literature, for example, or genres like graphic novels and cookbooks also add up to a considerable portion of the market.

Chris Anderson's original "Long Tail" model

The model of the long tail is useful for showcasing other trends as well.  In a 2011 report from Forrester Consulting, the graph was used to highlight the long tail of changes and requests that IT professionals have on their desk but rarely have time to deal with.  The “head” of the graph descends in business value from core IT systems and big projects to level off in the long tail of tasks always on the IT to-do list.

The report suggests that software solutions like robotic process automation (RPA) can be used to manage this long tail of IT tasks.  Forrester gathered interview data from 15 major organizations of all different industries, and all of these organizations said they use thousands of Excel spreadsheets and Access databases to coordinate and track work.  Information can fall through the cracks very easily in a system like this, especially when you’re dealing with a margin of human error.  RPA, on the other hand, all but eliminates errors if programmed correctly and can be left to process while the IT professionals are paying attention to more demanding work.

Whether your business demands are gradual or acute, RPA can act as a bridge between systems that’s fast to erect and easy to change.  If an organization would like to offer an extension to an existing application, the programmable software robots can take care of the information retrieval and analysis instead of asking an IT employee to copy and paste for hours.  In a situation where an organization must work quickly to provide a service that their competition is offering, robots can fill customer needs while the IT staff works on a sustainable solution.

Especially in cases where an organization is built on outdated, even archaic IT systems, RPA itself can be a sustainable option for new operations.  Rather than creating a brand-new infrastructure that may or may not fit your business needs, RPA can work within systems to expand possibilities.  Perhaps we'll see this particular tail get much shorter in the near future.

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Katie Behrens

Client Service Representative, Arts People

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