Software tailored to business needs

The trouble with enterprise applications is that they are expensive, inflexible and no two deployments are the same.

The trouble with enterprise applications is that they are expensive, inflexible and no two deployments are the same.

None of this comes as a surprise to anybody in IT, but these are not attractive attributes to business executives who fund such projects. As a result, executives are now in the process of punishing vendors by driving prices down, reducing the number of vendors they deal with and limiting the size of engagements to keep projects manageable.

All of these measures are a necessary part of doing business in the current economy. But a potentially more important phenomenon is starting to take hold in the enterprise: simply put, a new emphasis on value.

After spending millions of dollars on enterprise applications that often failed to live up to expectations, IT organisations are now focused on getting as much value as possible out of their existing application investments. To do that, they are looking to integration and a new generation of collaborative applications that leverage data from across financial, supply-chain, customer relationship management and manufacturing applications.

In the grand scheme of things, creating these types of collaborative applications was always the goal. But in practice they proved too difficult to build, so the vast majority of enterprise applications are not integrated with any other source of data in the business.

Fortunately, we are seeing the benefits of web services technologies being applied against enterprise applications. So for the first time, IT organisations can leverage these technologies to create an XML-based abstraction layer that can pull data into an application from any other application. This new infrastructure will enable a new class of business process integration tools to help IT organisations by allowing IT to focus on integrating multiple business processes rather than on slogging their way through multiple point-to-point integration projects.

In addition to enabling new classes of applications, there's a nascent move towards hosted models for enterprise integration that leverage web services. These efforts show up in three forms: an IT organisation creates a data centre for its partners to perform a dedicated hosting function, vendors such as SAP and IBM create data centres with business partners to perform that function, or third-party companies form specifically to tackle hosting. The benefit here is that you gain a consistent level of quality control over integration projects by using some sort of dedicated service rather than relying on the hit-or-miss approach of a systems integrator.

So while it's easy to be down on enterprise applications these days, the real name of the game in the enterprise is value. And with web services, for the first time software will adapt to the business rather than forcing the business to bend to the software.

Vizard is editor in chief of US IDG publication InfoWorld. Send letters for publication in Computerworld NZ to Computerworld Letters.

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