By Khawer Iqbal,
Dec 31, 2001 - Jan 06, 2002
The IT industry is currently experiencing the
latest wave of investment in new technologies, but how much will it
learn from recent history?
In the late 90s the advent of client-server
technology led to major investment in the next generation of corporate
systems. Still struggling with the legacy systems of the previous 10
years, the challenge was to deliver a new breed of systems which
brought new business value, while not devaluing existing IT
investments. At the same time, the productivity advantages offered by
client-server tools encouraged rapid development in preference to more
traditional, structured development techniques. This combination of
new technology and immature development methods once again led to a
generation of systems which posed challenges when faced with the need
to expand and adapt to meet new business needs.
Now, at the start of the new millennium, there is
unprecedented interest in a new wave of web-based technologies. How
will corporate IT divisions respond to the challenges posed by this,
and to the lessons of the past?
Time for a new approach
This time around, time-to-market has become a more
critical factor than ever before in system development. Good eBusiness
capabilities are becoming a key differentiator in many marketplaces,
and slow entrants to this arena run the risk of missing major business
opportunities, or perhaps even losing market share.
The winners in the eBusiness arena will be those
who are best able to reconcile a number of critical objectives:
•Rapid delivery of new solutions
•Adaptability to change
•Quality of product
While software packages provide comprehensive
off-the-shelf functionality, they usually lack adequate flexibility.
This can result in packages dictating the way a business must operate,
rather than the reverse. By contrast, components provide the essential
building blocks of solutions without dictating the shape of the
solutions themselves. Hence they can offer massive time and cost
savings while providing enormous flexibility to solution designers.
Designing for change
Components may provide a number of different types
of functionality, from business-oriented functions such as payments
and statement generation to technical functions such as messaging,
transaction management and security. Isolation of business components
from technical components is important, however, since a change in
business functionality should not imply a change to the underlying
A sound technical architecture is essential to the
success of component-based developments. A successful architecture is
one in which individual components can be enhanced, and new components
added, with minimal impact to existing systems.
This is particularly critical in view of the rapid
evolution of web-based technologies. Current standards such as HTML,
for example, provide obvious limitations to interface designers, not
even matching the previous generation of client-server tools in terms
of interface sophistication. Such limitations dictate that these
technologies must evolve to meet the needs of a market which will
demand ever more sophisticated web-based business systems. The rapid
emergence of new platforms such as WAP, SMS and Interactive TV are an
indication of the speed at which this evolution can take place. The
ability to embrace new standards and technologies as they emerge is
critical, and will provide significant competitive advantage.
Choosing the right supplier
The marketplace for solution providers has a number
of new kids on the block. The Internet explosion has spawned an
increasing number of dot-com development specialists. The origins of
these companies vary, with many evolving from design agencies and
hence offering specialised graphical design skills in tandem with
system development capabilities. While offering a high degree of
expertise in new-media technologies, however, such suppliers are often
not well-equipped to deal with the integration of new solutions with
The ability to fuse new-media technologies with
existing systems and business operations will become an imperative.
Deployment of standalone web solutions offers limited benefits, and
often merely highlights deficiencies in end-to-end business processes.
A successful e-business solution is one which achieves seamless
integration of business processes across all technical platforms and
When choosing a solution provider, consider the
lessons of the past, and be aware that today's systems may be
tomorrow's legacy. Those suppliers best equipped to avoid previous
mistakes will often be those who have extensive experience in dealing
with the challenges of client-server and mainframe systems. The need
for sound architecture, code maintainability and appropriate rigour in
design, development and testing should be second nature to such
suppliers, and should be engrained in their methods and culture. These
suppliers are also more likely to provide a truly end-to-end service:
from requirements analysis to system testing, from web interfaces to
interfaces with legacy systems.
Look also for those suppliers who can offer a
library of components which can accelerate development activity, and
hence reduce the cost of new systems. Such suppliers are a rare breed,
but can deliver unparalleled time and cost savings.
Above all, look for suppliers with the vision to
deliver a platform for the future, rather than a short-term solution.
Such suppliers will combine business awareness, technical design and
development expertise and sound experience of the delivery of
So when you are planning your next e-Business
investment, ask yourself the following question: am I investing in the
company's IT future, or simply building a legacy?