Real-life real time

FRAMINGHAM (11/05/2003) - Examples abound of cutting-edge extended enterprises already testing real-time - meaning near instantaneous - automation.

Travelocity.com LP, for instance, taps into the central reservation systems of thousands of hoteliers for real-time availability and pricing data.

Meanwhile, ABF Freight System Inc., our 2001 E-comm Innovator Award winner, last year implemented several real-time applications, among them a shipment progress notification system. Drivers use Nextel Communications Inc. phones equipped with microbrowsers. Via a custom wireless application, they submit progress information while on the road, rather than at day's end.

Not only does this let customers follow shipments more closely, it helps ABF on the outbound planning side "now (that) we have that info five hours earlier," says Michael Newcity, e-commerce manager at the Fort Smith, Arkansas, company. ABF planners can alter routes and consolidate shipments during the day, on the fly, thanks to up-to-the-minute data on driver locations and loads.

Financial site Hoover's Online also relies on real-time sales operations. Publication of financial stories must be real time, but back-end operations are following suit, says Tom Ballard, chief technology officer at the Austin, Texas, company. When an interested customer fills out Hoover's online subscription form, a mouse click sends the form to the salesforce automation system, where it triggers an alert and follow-up tracking. "If you are interested enough to fill out the form, you are interested that moment, not the next day," Ballard say. "Taking a lead instantly off the Web site and responding to that lead within minutes - that's our life."

Thomas Koulopoulos, president and co-founder of market research firm Delphi Consulting Group Inc., calls endeavors such as these "always-on e-business." He compares the instantaneous real-time enterprise with indoor plumbing: "When you need to get a transaction done, you can - the always-on e-business is always there."

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