Today, a business' relationship with change is as important as its relationship with its customers. How businesses manage change is equally as important as how they manage their leadership, employees, suppliers, partners, and customers. Because "time-to-change" is as central to business success as "time-to-market."
There are two areas that businesses need to improve upon to evolve with the Internet-economy. First, businesses need to understand their relationship with change and how to use it to their advantage. Second, they need to have the technology infrastructure necessary to rapidly harness their relationship with change. Even though much of this "relationship" process is now enabled by a variety of technologies, many businesses have failed to seriously manage their relationship with change.
Success in this new Internet-enabled world is tied directly to how well businesses anticipate, accept, embrace, and exploit change as a strategic advantage. Businesses that can't or won't change are destined to become irrelevant entities. Businesses that do are "future-built." Future-built businesses deliver on the e-business promise. With ever-increasing tension and disruption, businesses need to be enabled for rapid change response. Future-built businesses, in short, use agility and adaptability to respond to change. Agility and adaptability serve as their competitive advantage.
In today's technology environment, the most critical issue to becoming an agile and adaptive business is technology infrastructure. Unfortunately, most businesses fail to recognize this until they've already invested substantially into multiple vendor products and services, each with non-interoperable systems. Many of which offer little in the way of service or product agility.
Generally, today's business technology infrastructure falls into the following composition categories:
Products developed by multiple vendors
Proprietary technology is essentially infrastructure that's set in stone. Proprietary technology is "hard coded" and lacks flexibility, interoperability, and ease of integration.
Products developed by multiple vendors present a nightmarish upgrading process. Upgrading systems in synchronicity is highly unlikely and the process is laborious.
Patchwork platform requires hand-coding integration - or the duct tape integration approach.
Open architecture provides seamless integration, flexibility, scalability, extendibility, and interoperability - with proprietary, closed systems and applications.
So, how do businesses take the technology infrastructure they have now and make it work in the future?
With the recent advent of e-business, businesses have witnessed many philosophical and technological changes. But e-business is nothing more than good business.
Research firm Forrester recently released a report proclaiming that e-business will account for a 15 percent increase in the U.S. economy's productivity over the next decade. Forrester's research findings come as no surprise. For years, many organizations have been able to establish a direct correlation between e-business and long-term productivity improvements.
While e-business hype, figures and statements are attracting a great deal of interest, attention is best focused on how businesses use e-business to increase productivity and improve operations - today. With the new growth of e-business, most of the burden and responsibility of sustaining that growth has fallen on the information technology (IT) department. Businesses need to prepare for the next level of e-business requirements - those requirements are rapidly approaching.
High-volume e-business transactions have increased pressure on the business computing environment. Functionality and stability are no longer adequate to provide businesses a competitive advantage. Businesses must be able to organize, deploy, adapt and integrate applications quickly to counter rising workloads and ever-changing business requirements. Data and applications must be integrated across the enterprise to improve efficiency, optimize levels of performance, and ensure reliable availability. All of this must be achieved and maintained to support business-critical processes.
In order to be flexible, agile and adaptive, businesses need an e-business platform that provides the essential infrastructure for building an integrated e-business platform that can reliably service customers, scale to unpredictable levels, tailor services to customers, flexibly collaborate with partners and suppliers, and rapidly adapt to increasing amounts of change across the universal chain of commerce.
Top businesses have accelerated their business cycles through establishing e-business relations across their entire chain of customers and suppliers. Some of the realized advantages from accelerating their business cycles include: reduced costs, information sharing, efficient collaboration and transaction processing, and rapid response to new opportunities and market shifts. The increasing maturity of applications for e-commerce, e-learning, supply-chain management (SCM) and customer resource management (CRM) is propelling this revolution. This has all resulted through simplifying deployment and providing a rapid, more substantial return-on-investment (ROI).
With each of these advantages come new technology challenges. Workloads rapidly spiral when customers and suppliers access applications associated with core business systems. Security must be augmented while systems must be available 24x7. Even though up-to-date application functionality is important, business value is also equally dependent on the business services' flexibility, scalability and availability. The performance of these e-business applications often has a direct, immediate impact on revenue and operation stability.
Leading businesses are looking for faster integration, incremental scalability, extendibility, availability, and affordability. The solution lies in creating infrastructure that truly delivers on the e-business promise.
So how do businesses approach the e-business IT problem? One approach is N-tier architecture. N-tier architecture is a proven approach that enables IT professionals and organizations to meet their ever-increasing e-business demands. N-tier strategy partitions systems and software to enable a more flexible, building block approach to infrastructure design and growth.
By taking advantage of off-the-shelf software (or middleware) and N-tier architecture, businesses can easily design, organize, deploy and integrate e-business applications across the enterprise.
In meeting the infrastructure demands of e-business, IT organizations need to become proficient at designing and implementing the N-tier architecture. N-tier architecture takes a more revolutionary approach then the more traditional 2-tier approach, in which core applications and data are usually hosted on a monolithic system (mainframe), which is accessed by a variety of "thick" clients.
The traditional 2-tier architecture puts significant loads on the network because of the heavy interaction between clients and the server. In addition, the 2-tier approach doesn't offer incremental scalability. When usage or load exceeds capacity, it may become necessary to replace the entire system. The structure of the 2-tier architecture has proven itself unsuitable for the volatility of e-business environments.
Software infrastructure is the lifeblood of e-business. If it has the power to drive non-stop innovation, successfully and efficiently respond to change, create new options and value for business customers, then it is built for the future.
For businesses to rapidly move as a single, unified entity, applications must be interoperable, share data and business processes, and enable collaboration across the enterprise. Successful e-business is about delivering reliable market services that will rapidly grow its customer base while propelling it to a market leadership position.
Today "time-to-change" is as critical as "time-to-market." Alliances and supply chain partners will come and go, but having an infrastructure in place that allows for quick and easy replacement and addition of partners is essential. Future built businesses effectively manage their relationship with change and design their IT infrastructure to be flexible, scalable, and reliable.
Bray J. Brockbank is an e-business and technology integrations consultant for Learnframe, a leading knowledge e-commerce and e-Learning infrastructure technologies corporation; Contact Bray by e-mail: [email protected], telephone: 800-738-9800.
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