For most organisations, the past few years have been marked by the implementation of large-scale line-of-business applications starting with ERP (enterprise resource planning) suites followed by e-commerce applications then pilot projects built around CRM (customer relationship management) software — and in some cases, digital exchanges.
Today the latter two applications, CRM and digital exchanges, are for the most part being scaled back to small, manageable pilot projects, because every one involved with them has come to realise that they require a fundamental change to business processes before they can be successfully implemented.
In most companies, it takes years to alter the way business is conducted, because of all the social and political issues associated with these types of re-engineering projects. That said, now is a good time to start thinking about some of the more mundane, but crucial, elements of enterprise computing.
The vast majority of the companies that have deployed line-of-business applications during recent years have done so in an ad hoc manner, resulting in a series of stove-piped applications with very little integration. But if your company is going to truly realise the full value of these applications, the need to integrate these applications will become of paramount importance. After all, it’s one thing to have a bunch of e-business applications, but quite another to have a true e-business enterprise where all the applications share data. Of course, sharing data won’t be enough. Not only do we need to integrate these applications with one another internally, we also must integrate them with other applications that reside externally. And once you reach out beyond the firewall, time becomes incredibly important. This is driven by the fact that there is an expectation that all the data in any given application is current. So rather than doing batchlike updates between applications, changes to the data must be shared in real time.
In fact, much of the interest in SLAs (service-level agreements) is predicated on the fact that organisations want to know for certain that they are living up to their commitments. Unfortunately, most SLAs are pretty limited in their scope because the technology needed to truly enforce them is limited. But over time, network management tools will get more sophisticated and in the not-too-distant future will reach the capability of tracking the contents of any given wayward packet and assigning that packet to a dollar value. As this capability evolves, the demands that will be placed on application integration performance will increase dramatically, which means simply linking applications will no longer be good enough. Instead, applications will have to be integrated as seamlessly as possible because not only will time be money, but data and packets will be money too.
So with the global economy cooling its jets, there’s no better time to start thinking about how your organisation is going to build out an application integration framework that will take you to the next level of business activity. After all, the term e-business may amount to little more than a buzzword that signifies what we have always been doing in one form or another, but the reality is that business goals and technology remain joined at the hip forever.
And in a slowing economy, people begin to demand more results from their existing investments, and the only way to deliver on that expectation is through increased data integration. So whether the economy is up or down, IT remains critically important — and there’s no rest for the weary in sight.
Vizard is editor-in-chief of InfoWorld. Send email to Michael Vizard.