Enterprise Computing: Business Beyond Boundaries

Enterprise Computing: Business Beyond Boundaries<@VM>Andersen Consulting<@VM>Cisco Systems Inc.<@VM>Oracle Corp.<@VM>IBM Corp.

By John Makulowich

The popularity of the Web browser as an end-user tool, the continuing migration of firms to the TCP/IP protocol as a data distribution mechanism, and the sharpened focus on the needs of the customer have stretched the notion of enterprise computing like a rubber band.

The traditional and technical notion of enterprise computing was a method of connecting a company's computing resources. Now the concept approaches that of an intranet, of extending the boundaries of business beyond the computing enterprise itself to include vendors, remote users and potential bidders for products, processes and services.

One clear move to broaden the sense of enterprise computing came with the release in late April by Sun Microsystems of its i-Planet software. With its tag line, "Your virtual desktop on the Net. Where you are is where you work," Sun shifted the window of enterprise computing to an increasingly secure dimension while pushing its Java programming language with the introduction of Netlets (applets passed over a local area network).

As Sun literature notes, the change is clear: "Access your applications, information, e-mail, internal Web sites from any Java technology-enabled browser, anywhere, anytime, using any device."

Microsoft Corp. officials relate enterprise computing to an organization's "digital nervous system."

"An effective digital nervous system allows a company's internal processes to execute tasks smoothly and quickly, enables an organization to promptly respond to customer feedback and react to its competitive environment in a timely manner, while empowering employees with critical, centrally located knowledge," said Keith Hodson, public relations manager of Microsoft Federal in Washington. "Because each business is different, every system will reflect unique needs and structures."

With the bountiful changes evident throughout the industry, from major players to one-person small businesses, it is appropriate to explore the current thinking on enterprise computing.

Washington Technology asked a sampling of organizations to address the issue of what enterprise computing covers, the skill set required to do enterprise computing and whether there is a need to broaden or narrow the term. We also asked about the level of demand it puts on end users, including federal government executives and staff, and the business decision issues it introduces.

The following are snapshots of what enterprise computing means today to officials at four organizations.

Steve Rohleder

Stephen Rohleder, managing partner, Andersen Consulting's Americas Federal Government practice

The technology industry tends to define this term on the basis of technology capabilities provided, such as intranets, groupware, data warehousing, mobile systems and network computing.

Andersen Consulting's definition of enterprise computing is derived from how the capabilities can be used to improve business processes. Technology innovations that have increased electronic connectivity in the past few years are revolutionizing the way business is transacted and how government services are provided to citizens.

As organizations find ways to integrate the data that supports their businesses, they face challenges related to the adoption of new, integrated business processes. Organizations that have successfully reorganized their operations are the ones that have found the value of this change in their bottom lines. From our perspective, the results are found in integrating the business, not just integrating the systems.

When it comes to government services, citizens want choice, convenience and control. Citizens want the option of using the telephone, the Internet or talking to staff for service.

To meet the challenge, governments must do what successful private organizations have done. They must refocus their strategies to bring about change in technology infrastructure, change in business processes and change in the organizational culture.

As they make these changes, they need to focus across agencies, eliminating any duplication and developing one-stop shopping for citizens. For instance, when a college student wants to apply for a student loan and needs a visa to travel overseas, it should be possible to fill out the form in one location, with the student's requirements then facilitated by the involved agencies. This puts an end to shuffling citizens from office to office.

One of the biggest challenges that the government faces is the ability to drive this change and continue changing as technology and business changes. The challenge faced by government executives is how to adopt and maintain the right capabilities to operate in this environment. The IT organization must have the skills to operate leading-edge administrative systems, build and maintain Web-based applications and operate highly interconnected and distributed systems.

IT professionals must not only understand the technology, but also the business context it serves. Government employees must have the ability to interface with multiple technologies and be able to access and analyze information in multiple ways rather than just traditional hard-copy reports.

The real challenge for government, with regard to using these systems and generally maintaining advanced information technology infrastructures, has been maintaining and hiring skilled staff. The IT labor market pool universally is tight, making it difficult to find, hire and retain these skilled professionals. In the U.S. federal marketplace, agencies have the additional challenge of an aging work force, with many individuals approaching retirement age, thereby compounding the problem.

As a result, governments increasingly will turn to the private sector to ease this burden, transferring internal business systems, technology applications or entire business processes to an external resource to gain strategic advantage. Government executives then must decide which operations to outsource, which should be performed by government employees, and how the transition should occur.

As this change occurs, the distinction between the public and private sectors will become transparent to citizens, as both sectors work together to improve service delivery.

New public enterprises will emerge that combine private sector and government products and services, acknowledging that citizens and businesses can work with both sectors seamlessly. But, most importantly, through this combined set of resources, citizens will benefit from greater choice, convenience and control of the government services.
Randy Wood, systems engineer, Cisco Systems Federal Operations, Federal Multiservices Team

Enterprise computing implies, in the broadest sense, the proper application of technology to the enterprise business functions, namely, learning, communicating and executing or conducting the actual business of the organization.

It enables technology architects and managers to develop a systemic view of technology in the organization in which applications, networks and policy are developed in support of and in response to each other's requirements, limitations and constraints.

Effective enterprise computing is defined and substantiated by a thoughtful and comprehensive enterprise computing strategy. As such, an enterprise computing strategy embodies a portfolio of computer and network-based applications that, through automation and simulation of business functions, enable the staff members and end users of an organization to become more efficient and effective. This then enables the organization to gain competitive or strategic advantage, optimize command and control functions, enhance decision-making processes and improve market (or, in the case of military organizations, battle space) awareness.

An effective enterprise computing strategy develops a highly coupled relationship between the application portfolio and the underlying data networks, both LANs and WANs. At all times, it is sensitive to an overarching policy based on application security and quality of service requirements.

An enterprise computing strategy may have as its primary goal technology cost containment. Converged data, voice and video networks enable organizations to minimize recurring costs in communications circuits; better leverage local loop connections for voice, video and data connectivity; and enjoy toll bypass for intra-organizational voice traffic. This also allows organizations to pursue a strategy of critical staff redeployment from job functions that only indirectly contribute to the organizational mission (voice system support and management) to functions directly related to the business of the organization, such as applications architecture and development.

Effective enterprise computing develops and empowers the knowledge worker, the most important asset of any organization.

To remain competitive in a certain market or to become more sensitive to constituents, organizations must consider not just the cost of an enterprise computing strategy, but also the cost of having no strategy at all.

Tim Hoechst

Tim Hoechst, vice president of technology, Oracle Service Industries

Typically, when people talk about enterprise computing, they are referring to the larger systems that run across an enterprise. In many ways, this term exists only to distinguish the various capabilities of technologies that one might implement inside an organization: "Such-and-such technology is enterprise-capable because it scales to thousands of users," and so on.

In this way, enterprise computing is contrasted by the term personal computing. Some technologies are appropriate for personal computing, while others are appropriate for enterprise computing. This distinction usually refers to the power, complexity and scalability of the technology.

For example, word processing, games, graphics and manipulating a spreadsheet are personal computing tasks. They have one user, the technologies are simple to use, and they run locally on a desktop system. But once the word processing document or spreadsheet becomes part of the information assets of the enterprise, then the nature of the problem changes (as does the nature of the technologies required to address it).

That spreadsheet might populate an accounts receivables system that has many users. Or the word processing document might become part of a document warehouse that is accessed by everyone in the enterprise through complex indexing techniques.

For personal computing, the technologies must be easy to use and focused on the individual. For enterprise computing, the technologies must be accessible, secure, scalable and capable of running on a wide variety of large computers.

All enterprises have information assets. These assets need to be accessed and manipulated to meet the goals of the enterprise. This might include administrative systems or customer systems accessed over the Internet. Enterprise information systems are focused on providing access to information to those who need it in a timely, secure fashion. This can involve complex functionality that exists in many different systems.

The well-engineered enterprise system hides this complexity from the users of the system by moving it under the control of centralized computing professionals. This means that modern enterprise information systems put all of their complexity into the servers in the data center and rely only on simple interfaces (typically a Web browser) for the users.

Modern enterprise computing systems draw on all of the computing resources of an enterprise to gain maximum leverage over the information resources throughout the organization. They typically focus on broadening access to the people who need it.

Many of the problems associated with enterprise computing are not technical problems ? they are social problems. In personal computing, there are no social problems because I am a committee of one. I decide how I want to compute and I do it. In enterprise computing, getting people to agree on how information across various systems should be integrated and accessed is very difficult for all sorts of non-technical reasons.

Finally, the most important success factor in modern enterprise computing is a commitment to standards. Enterprise computing environments are not static and monolithic as they were in the past; they are dynamic organisms that change every day.

The only path to success in a changing environment like this is a diligent commitment to standard mechanisms for accessing and distributing information. After all, it is this philosophy that made possible the largest enterprise computing system: the Internet.
Paul Kaplan, manager, software sales specialists, IBM Global Government Industry, and Nick Schoonover, chief architect, Defense Department programs, IBM Global Government Industry

We define enterprise computing in terms of a mature, reality-based approach to the marketplace. As we look at the market, we see:

*A heterogeneous, diverse base of installed software, hardware and companies providing services to customers.

*Some emerging standards for interoperability.

Enterprise computing in this scenario means the ability to provide the complete solution or any part of the solution that the customer requires, and fit it in seamlessly with the existing architectures and other components.

Some of the associated buzzwords include:

*Scalability: The ability to handle millions of transactions per day. This is closely associated with an infrastructure for managing, backup and recovery of the environment.

*Availability: The ability to develop systems with 99.999 percent availability.

*Portability: The ability to develop applications and products for a small-scale environment and move them to a more scalable, reliable environment without recoding or redesigning, etc.

*Integratability: The ability to integrate with the legacy environments as well as other technologies and products with minimal complexity for the customer.

*Manageability: The ability to provide a management framework that can be used easily by the enterprise for lowering the cost of running the enterprise, improving service levels and optimizing the use of resources.

Enterprise computing generally should focus on a server-oriented strategy. It should reduce complexity to the end user by using standard presentation mechanisms (browser-based), use standards to improve interoperability and use tooling that produces applications that can seamlessly run on any platform.

The above implies that the customer or integrator understands how to design an architecture that will provide the qualities mentioned. It also implies that the customer or integrator understands how to implement the architecture in a manner that meets the business objectives of the enterprise, with minimal disruption during implementation.

The newer concept of e-business changes the very foundation of how enterprise computing is implemented.

There are some technological problems that have to be solved to address issues of privacy, security or widening the bandwidth. But what our customers are beginning to understand, with a lot of help from us, is that to fully exploit the networked world, they have to make fundamental changes in the way they conduct their businesses. These decisions far exceed the technological issues they face.

The most important decisions are about how they deal with customers, how they deal with suppliers, how they deal with distributors; how they get work done inside their enterprises; and how people learn, how information flows across their enterprises.

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