Online extra: ERP and utility computing -- Who is ready for prime-time?

Enterprise resource planning: Green light

Upside: For government agencies looking to save money and improve productivity, enterprise resource planning software is high on their lists of priorities, analysts said. Better yet, agencies are growing comfortable with off-the-shelf solutions from companies such as PeopleSoft Inc., SAP AG and Siebel Systems Inc., which can be easier and faster to deploy than custom-written applications.

Downside: Very little. But anyone looking to integrate an ERP system at a federal agency may have to consider how it fits into the federal enterprise architecture.

Outlook: It may seem odd to list something as well established as ERP in an emerging technology forecast. But when a chorus of analysts and integrators insists ERP is gaining momentum, we can't ignore it. ERP is hot as federal, state and local agencies look for efficient, cost-effective ways of improving their operations.
"There was a lot of talk about ERP in 2002. But especially at the state level, budget problems and new governors pushed back ERP projects," Santenello said. "With things turning around, 2004 will be a big year for ERP."

Utility computing: Red light

Upside: Big hitters have thrown resources behind utility computing, the concept that information technology should be used and paid for on demand, like electricity or gas. Computer Associates International Inc., EDS, Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. all have utility computing programs. And with government agencies looking to simplify infrastructures and better manage costs, they'll be exploring some form of utility computing.

Downside: Not everyone is convinced the idea can work. Definitions of utility computing vary, and no clear pricing structure has emerged for pay-as-you-go computing services.

Outlook: Tech heavyweights such as Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Inc. and Microsoft are sitting out this round of utility computing hype before deciding whether to enter the nascent, often confusing market.

Some companies consider grid computing, a method of pooling together networked resources, part of utility computing. Others lump application service providers ? those that host software on their own servers and rent it to agencies on a monthly basis ? under the utility computing umbrella. The confusion may hold back adoption.
Until utility computing vendors can clearly articulate what they're selling and for how much, experts say the technology will be relegated to niche applications.

Ultimately agencies may not purchase on-demand computing resources from outside firms, but they may look to deploy internal utility computing-like systems. Computer Associates promotes the idea of "delivering IT as a service" to describe centralized management and provisioning of technology to meet the needs of an organization.

In this model, the IT department is the service provider and agency offices or departments get the applications and network resources they need when they need them.

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