Beyond e-Business: Infrastructure Strategies that Will Enrich Your Value Chain
In the late 1990s, e-Business took the world by storm. The potent combination of the Internet's global connectivity, innovative Web interfaces, and standards such as Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and HTML captured the collective imaginations of business leaders and consumers alike.
e-Business was supposed to revolutionize entire industries, change how goods were purchased, services delivered, and brands defined. Potentially, e-Business impacted every facet of the organization, including business models, processes, applications, staffing, infrastructure, relationships, product development, purchasing, and sales.
Not only was e-Business expected to transform companies and industries, it was supposed to accelerate the rate of change. Business cycles that previously took years were supposed to happen in days. The business and investment worlds' traditional fixation on revenues and profits changed to a focus on time-to-market and "capturing eyeballs" of users on Web sites.
Businesses and government organizations spent huge amounts of money on e-Business initiatives, applications, and infrastructure. By the beginning of 2000, the e-Business mania had resulted in ludicrous stock valuations and a propensity to put the letter "e" in front of everything.
Within another year or two, however, much of the e-Business world came crashing down. Most of the so-called dot-com companies had gone out of business, stock valuations plummeted, and budgets were cut across industries. e-Business had followed the traditional cycle of overly hyped expectations and excessive spending that is associated with business boom cycles.
Figure 1.1 illustrates the gap that developed between e-Business expectations and reality. The technology investment curve shows how expenditures were even more extreme on either side of the rise and fall of expectations.
Figure 1.1 The Gap Between e-Business Expectations and Reality
Looking from the past to the future, the right side of Figure 1.1 shows that many of the e-Business changes will be permanent and that technology investment will settle somewhere in the gap between boom and bust..
Leading organizations realize that many of the benefits and changes of e-Business are long-term. However, these benefits must be leveraged by the entire organization instead of existing as a separate appendage. This realization merges e-Business initiatives back into broader corporate initiatives. Likewise, e-Business infrastructure will be viewed as part of a larger infrastructure whole.
Now that we are thinking "beyond e-Business," competition is not company against company but business chain against business chain. These chains include suppliers, partners, distributors, logistics providers, regulators, and even competitors. Companies can be only as strong as the weakest link in their chain. The winners will be companies that can build up, or tear down, electronic business-to-business (B2B) relationships rapidly and seamlessly.
Beyond e-Business, enterprise borders will change, or even disappear. Leading organizations will provide open access to infrastructure services, data, and applications. Partners, suppliers, customers and, in some cases, even your competition, or "co-opetition," will be able to peer into your corporate nervous system, including your traditional systemsnot just the ones with an "e" in front of them.
In theory, all of this realignment is for the better, removing time and costs from key business processes. If not handled correctly, however, it could be detrimental, undermining your security and overall brand.
In this new era, customer expectations are rising mercilessly in terms of the speed and reliability they expect across all points of interaction. Just as people don't like to wait in line at a store or to be on hold waiting for a call center agent, studies show that Web customers will wait only eight seconds for a page view. Unfortunately, the customers do not care that you have no control over your call volume or their connection speed.
Not only are your external customers' expectations rising, so are the expectations of your internal customers and business leaders. They can't watch the news or read a magazine without being reminded about the possibilities when e-Business and traditional concepts are combined effectively.
Why Infrastructure (Suddenly) Matters
The pressure to move beyond e-Business places a great strain on infrastructure components such as networks, security, servers, and middleware. If your front doors aren't robust, highly available, and secure, your company risks major losses.
Innovations such as the Internet, wireless applications, call centers, and even the automated teller machines (ATMs) of the 1980s have made applications and infrastructure increasingly visible to customers and to the general public. Today, much of your organization's reputation and brand identity depends on the quality of your infrastructure, not just on your applications.
With the Internet as a common currency in the business world, lack of integration, robustness, or agility on your part becomes immediately and embarrassingly obvious to key customersno matter where they are in the world. In the past, when you made mistakes, only your employees knew. Now, if your systems fail, the whole world may know. CNN might broadcast a report on how your Web site hasn't been up for five hours! That's definitely not good advertising for the company's brand.
An infrastructure that frequently fails, that doesn't support the traffic load, or that can't provide a reasonably integrated view of your complex organization can cost your company immediately in lost sales and lost goodwill. When you realize what's at stake, you begin to see why savvy, agile organizations are investing more to make sure that their infrastructure doesn't lag far behind their business vision and applications. Unfortunately, once your lack of robustness and agility is exposed, you can't change things very quickly. Having an adaptive infrastructure will ensure that you don't get caught flat-footed when your time comes to shine on the world's commercial stage.