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Supercharging the 'E' Drive

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DQI Bureau
New Update

In today's challenging economic climate, savvy companies are investing in

the Web to drive down cost, improve employee productivity and integrate more

closely with their customers, suppliers and partners. However, putting systems

and processes together so that they all work, and then getting them to

communicate with suppliers and customers, can be a daunting task.

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This undertaking has been made simpler by the advent of Web Services, which

allow businesses to share information stored in their computer applications with

other applications in the company or with those run by customers, suppliers and

partners. By connecting these processes online, companies can significantly

increase the efficiency-and thus lower the cost-of running their enterprise.

When companies began adopting Web Services technologies a few years ago, they

were focused mostly on access: putting information on the Web, enabling some

e-commerce, and so on. Since then, Web Services have grown to represent much

more than that, especially to enterprises wrestling with legacy integration

issues.

It's no secret that there are many processes that keep a business running.

Customer data is housed in databases; accounting applications handle billing and

purchasing; phone calls and faxes are often necessary to handle interactions

with business partners or different parts of large organisations. It's these

myriad functions that cause headaches for IT departments around the world. IT

staff spend so much time making all the underlying business communication

plumbing work, that they have fewer resources to spend on the parts of

infrastructure that make the business run more efficiently.

Network layout of a typical e-business network deployment

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Another problem is that, today, most processes are still silos-dedicated to

the departments themselves. The goal of Web Services is to connect all these

processes online and increase the amount of automation in businesses. Creating

this kind of on-demand, integrated infrastructure is an enormous challenge-as

well as a huge opportunity.

Software that offers the flexibility to modify and re-organise business

processes on the fly is critical for achieving these goals. Another key to

success is adopting open, non-proprietary computing standards such as Linux, so

that businesses can connect easily and flexibly with one another.

If anything has been accurately proved, it is that doing business on the Web

must translate into real value: better service for customers, better

communication between employees and partners and, most of all, better return on

investment. Once companies grasp this, managers will see their business as a set

of integrated processes, using Web services to connect operations from initial

customer demand through internal and supply-chain operations to order

fulfillment.

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Defining e-strategy



During the dot-com era, most organizations plunged into e-business emulating

their competitors or thinking that by introducing some form of portal or

e-commerce solution they will gain a competitive edge. What they have discovered

is that e-business still has to make sense as a business. A "neat"

website or "cool" collaboration environment is not going to be the

main source of competitive advantage. Any e-business initiative has to be tied

to the overall business strategy of the organization and has to be driven by

distinct set of objectives and measurement criteria.

Step 1: define your e-strategy



Your e-business strategy will be a subset of your overall business strategy.

This strategy should be leading to a set of well-defined initiatives each with

its own objectives and desired outputs. The initiatives should be such that you

are able to define metrics of success for each and monitor its health on an

ongoing basis.

Step 2: prioritize



Chances are that you will end up with multiple competing initiatives, each

with its set of proponents. Given the limited resources, these initiatives would

need to be prioritized. Some metrics for prioritization could include factors

like business impact, business urgency, technical complexity, effort involved,

change involved, and organizational readiness. Picking the ones that should be

embarked upon should be a collaborative discussion between business and IT

leaders in the organization.

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Step 3: define "success"



Any e-business initiative should have a set of "measurement

criteria" that will define success. Is the aim to drive down cost? Is it to

improve productivity? Is it to allow your customers access to up-to-date

information? The metrics that you define to monitor the health of your

initiative will be tied to your overall objectives.

Step 4: define the organization behind the initiative



Any e-business initiative should involve representation from business and

IT, working as a team, to reach the overall goals. There should be a clear

governance structure that is able to look across the different initiatives,

monitor their health, resolve conflicts, and provide the requisite funding and

resources. For a sample organization structure see the chart.

Step 5: Implement a solution



E-business initiatives tend to be very conducive towards an iterative

implementation model. Once a broad set of business requirements have been

understood, an architecture definition phase may be undertaken to define the

base technologies and platform. This is also a good time to decide between an

out-of-the-box product-based solution or custom development based on core

technologies. The other aspect to keep in mind is the user experience. Many of

the end users may not have had prior training on using web-based applications;

hence, usability of the application becomes one of the key success criteria.

With an architecture and user experience model in place, the application is

further evolved through an iterative process of detailed business requirements,

technical design and implementation.

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Step 6: monitor, support and enhance



A continuous process of monitoring the key metrics, making changes as per

the business needs and day-to-day maintenance, is needed to keep the initiative

going.

E-business still has to make business sense and should be judged by the same

set of metrics and RoI calculations that any other initiative in an organization

is measured by. Technology will keep on evolving and each organization should

decide its own route depending on the perceived benefits and the maturity of the

technology.

With contributions from editorial advisors -R Dhamodaran,

vice-president and country executive, Software Group and Developer Relations,

IBM India, and Kamran Ozair, senior vice-president and CTO, IT Services,

MindTree Consulting

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