Making money without wasting time

In the name of increased productivity, we humans have battled against time since the beginning of time. And no matter how efficient we are, there is always going to be some latency in any given business process.

Most of the time it takes to gather all the resources to manufacture something into a finished good is wasted. Most of the time the finished good spends travelling from the place where it was made to the place where it is ultimately sold is wasted. Most of the time that the finished good sits on a shelf waiting to be bought is wasted. And most of the time spent resolving the transaction once the goods are sold is wasted. This means that, most of the time, business is wasting time.

In the name of increased productivity, we humans have battled against time since the beginning of time. And if you look at the past 200 years, the invention of the cotton gin, the assembly line and the principles associated with just-in-time manufacturing have all been memorable victories that have had lasting impact in the war against time. And yet progress remains slow despite throwing billions of IT dollars at the problem during the past 30 years.

No matter how efficient we are, there is always going to be some latency in any given business process. The goal is to minimise that latency. And given that goal, it is beginning to look as if 2002 will be a good year because a lot of the technology required to drive real-time business processes is going to become a lot more affordable.

The financial services sector during the past two decades has done an admirable job of making real-time transactions a commonplace event. But the reason we don't see that same commitment to event-driven applications that process data in real time is that it has been historically very expensive to build these types of applications. For instance, in the financial services sector, a large number of companies rely on expensive middleware from Tibco to integrate diverse application in real time. But most companies outside of financial services simply could not afford to make that same level of investment.

But good things are happening. If you look at J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition)-based application servers and Microsoft .Net, event-driven programming models are becoming more readily available to programmers who leverage development environments linked to these architectures. And as web services continue to proliferate, it's going to be a lot easier and less expensive to build distributed event-driven applications for the enterprise. For example, startup Commerce Events has delivered that type of supply-chain application to elements of the US military. Similarly, startup Tilion offers a service that allows customers to see what is happening across a supply chain in real time.

We will also see a new generation of business-intelligence applications that in real time will compare what is actually happening to desired business metrics. This means that instead of using these tools to find out why something went wrong after the fact, these tools can begin to play a crucial role in identifying problems as they occur.

In the current economy, the emphasis has to return to traditional values such as efficiency because, after all, time is money.

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

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