Whiteside Weaves Businesses Into Web

Andersen Consulting, Chicago, and BBN Corp., Cambridge, Mass., raided the top ranks of Big Blue last month for a visionary to build a new information technology market.

John Whiteside traded a general manager post at IBM Global Network, Armonk, N.Y., for that of president and chief executive of ServiceNet, a joint Andersen-BBN venture to create an Internet-based business process utility.

Netsourcing, as Whiteside calls it, will deliver myriad business processes, including accounting, e-mail and inventory control, with the ease of plugging a computer into a wall jack. Formed last June, ServiceNet is targeting such customers as financial services companies, government agencies and a variety of manufacturers.

Whiteside explains why the time is right for this next generation of IT in an interview with Washington Technology staff writer Nick Wakeman.

WT: What can ServiceNet do that Computer Sciences Corp. or Electronic Data Systems cannot?

WHITESIDE: [Both] come out of the world of systems integration and IT outsourcing, and they did very well in the first generation - mainframes hooked together with private lines running grow-your-own software. They are still doing very well as companies try to figure out a way to outsource IT ... [and] focus on the future instead. The CSCs and EDSs will do well and will continue to do well there.

But as we look to the future of creating this utility - which will be very much Internet technology-based on the telecommunication side, very much network-tied to a server technology on the IT delivery side, and very much business-processes driven on top of a Java architecture on the application side - those large, less-than-nimble, big corporations will have some trouble focusing solely on this new world.

WT: How large is the market for ServiceNet?

WHITESIDE: The size of the market
is a tough one, as is market share, because today there is no defined market for a netsourcing utility business. It really is a new industry and a new market. There are no competitors doing precisely what we are aspiring to do.

There will be primary demand growth from the legacy businesses (networking, applications, systems integration and consulting).

But this new utility space is growing on the fact that the corporate customers will not have to build the information infrastructure internally but rather can rely on a utility.

WT: What must happen for netsourcing to become the utility you envision?

WHITESIDE: The utility is the business process [or] the ultimate form of outsourcing things that every business needs to do, from collaboration between people on one end, all the way up to complex transaction processing.

This will be the case whether it is a packaged goods business, manufacturing business, financial services, the communications industry or government - wherever there are high levels of transactions and you want to plug into a utility to do the transactions. You retain [only] those attributes that are unique to your specific business or government department.

WT: Why Andersen Consulting and BBN?

WHITESIDE: The two companies have core strengths in business processes and in secure networks - two elements required for the new netsourcing utility of the future.

Chief information officers are seeing three industries coming together - telecommunications, IT [both hardware and software], and the applications and consulting industries.

Technology advances in those fields, the CIO [is] swamped, the client server [doesn't] deliver the cost metrics that it once promised - [all] lead to pent up demand for this new business approach.

WT: How is the Internet changing industry?

WHITESIDE: The Internet is changing telecom, IT and applications. Gone are the days when you had a nailed-up proprietary infrastructure on which you built your application.

People who are now building business processes have to look at that and say things are now going to be very different. Business processes are going to change much more quickly. Walls will come down and there will be a much more virtual corporate structure.

Consultants helping companies re-engineer themselves must have the capability to help move customers into this new Internet-based world. [Those are] some of the key drivers behind Andersen Consulting's interest in spawning ServiceNet.

WT: Why leave the security of IBM?

WHITESIDE: There were two fundamental drivers. Both [Andersen and BBN] absolutely share a vision about where the netsourcing business process utility might go and how they might lead in creating that industry. I believe that is a correct vision of the future and a highly leveraged vision of the future. Therefore, I was very intrigued by it.

Also, this really is a start-up. An opportunity to come in and lead an organization. To build a management team, build a services suite and build a delivery infrastructure is something I really look forward to as the next challenge in my career.

WT: Why did you pick Northern Virginia as the base for this venture?

WHITESIDE: The core talent to bring into this space is a combination of networking, IT, hardware and software, and application skills. Surprisingly, Northern Virginia is one of the few places that has all those skill sets in abundance.

[Many] of the corporations we will be attractive to are transaction-intensive - the financial services industry, government agencies and product companies - [and] most are global. The Washington and Dulles airport area is a tremendously efficient place to conduct a global business.

Third, any new venture has to create its own autonomous persona and draw upon the strengths of both its parents without being overwhelmed by either one. Washington is a neutral location for both Andersen Consulting and BBN.

WT: How do you see telecommunications and computing converging?

WHITESIDE: Interesting debates get tied into this. The debate over whether the network computer is real. While an interesting read on a Sunday morning, I don't think [those debates] are particularly relevant.

What is critical to our customers is that there will be a broad array of appliances out there, but they will be most highly leveraged and highly used when they can get to a business process or application or a string of business processes and work flow in a network. That really is what ServiceNet is all about and we will support all those devices.

You see raging debate about network computing in part because all of the legacy companies - their heritages, whether it is Microsoft or IBM and Sun - is in the balance as people figure out what the hardware and software of the future looks like.

But no matter how that gets sorted out, for companies like ServiceNet, who have an aspiration to play in the utilities space, it is all good news.

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