Your article on the state of ecommerce (Information Age July 2005), rang a number of bells. I particularly agreed that this technology is all about re-writing the fundamental relationship with customers. As a consequence, integration across systems has become pivotal.
The one area where I would take issue is the importance of personalisation. We all know how irritating Microsoft products can be when they try to second guess us. Being pressed by an online retailer to purchase a teddy bear on the visit after buying a soft cuddly toy for my niece's birthday is bad enough. The retailer taking a year to get rid of the association is enough to drive anyone nuts.
I believe that the name of the game today is integration. In the last two years the retail sector has seen a growing emphasis on multi-channel working (mail order, point of sale, ecommerce), as well as a strong desire to integrate with back office systems in order to get the consistency and efficiency improvements available.
This is where the industry is today. Effective personalisation will require a lot more computer power and software with some real intelligence before it can truly add value.
The editor's letter in Information Age July 2005 (‘In search of ecommerce 2.0') hits the nail squarely on the head by suggesting that organisations must take a cold, hard look at how ecommerce impacts their business processes if they are to reap the full benefits of technology. They must also be prepared to troubleshoot rapidly in the event that their chosen ecommerce facility lets them down.
For most enterprises, problem resolution remains a manual, error-prone, communications-intensive activity. The problem resolution team typically goes though a lengthy and costly process that includes iterative attempts to gather information about the problem and multiple attempts to recreate the problem before even beginning the root-cause analysis phase.
Application monitoring and problem resolution technologies can provide a log of user actions synchronised with system information down to the code level. Such technologies enable testers, software developers and maintenance staff to pinpoint the root cause of application flaws and iron out these bugs more rapidly. They are helping to usher in the new ‘ecommerce 2.0' era your article refers to.
The ‘Excelling in Intelligence' article (Information Age July 2005) was interesting on many levels not least because it exposed that a decade after the introduction of business intelligence, many organisations are still failing to consider their information requirements up front.
Despite the growing widespread dependence on accurate, real-time information to provide business performance monitoring and drive business activity through alerts, too many companies are still taking an eleventh hour approach to the information provision component of new application developments.
Is it any surprise, therefore, that many ERP and CRM implementations fail to meet expectations? And, with users spending 35% of their time simply finding information, rather than attaining real business value, the organisational cost of this misguided strategy is significant.
Add in the increasing prevalence of semi-structured and unstructured data, from emails to marketing resources, and organisations are really struggling to maximise their information resources.
Certainly the availability of BI tools that can manage unstructured as well as structured data in a cohesive, single environment is a significant step forward – and one that, if used correctly, should dramatically reduce the time wasted by employees looking for information.
But tools are simply enablers – if BI is really to come of age, organisations need to drop the eleventh hour attitude and get serious about delivering business critical information across the organisation – from management dashboards to key performance indicators.
Director, product management
With regard to your article ‘Excelling in intelligence' (Information Age July 2005), I have seen the problem of spreadsheets fragmenting information for some years, and I have seen that lack of context for all types of information being an equally significant problem for businesses.
If businesses really wish to strip out overheads and become more efficient, then they have to confront this matter head on. The amount of time that is duplicated in the manual processing of the same kind of information in different ways in different parts of a business is substantial. It equates to many middle managers' salaries each year.
I think of these people as ‘spreadsheet jockeys', jumping from one spreadsheet to another, as they attempt to provide the information that ERP systems are unable to deliver.
We hear so much about knowledge management, yet the reality is that we have information overload but not knowledge overload. This is because in the middle ground of businesses today most workers are wrestling with the constraints of document-centric processes.
Documents like Excel spreadsheets simply fragment the information (or data) and create massive pockets of information. Thousands of replicated documents clog up corporate file servers. The waste of human endeavour is depressing. Learn, forget, re-learn is a maxim unwittingly followed by many organisations – both large and small in the world today.
Prof Matthew Bacon
ARK e-management Ltd
Your article ‘The right risk' (Information Age July) highlighted the importance of adopting a disciplined business-based approach to assessing IT risk. Who'd have thought that IT departments would find themselves responsible for safeguarding corporate brands?
IT systems of the complexity we see in contemporary organisations are subject to virtually continuous risk through change. Our research shows that very few IT directors are completely certain their management systems allow them to appreciate the potential impact of change on the business. During change, only a fifth of IT directors are certain their current IT management systems allow them to evaluate business risk.
There remains an unacceptable proportion of change that is unscheduled: this represents the highest degree of risk since it has not been fully planned. Recent technology advances in the field of business service management (BSM) significantly reduce the risk of change by providing real-time impact analysis, allowing all consequences to be considered and appropriate action taken. BSM can also detect change when it occurs, enabling unscheduled change to be immediately identified and addressed.
In the spirit of the article: the inevitability of change and the complexity of contemporary IT systems mean that change is a risk to be assessed and managed through appropriate investment. Fortunately BSM has proved a cost effective solution that reduces the risk of change to IT systems and can protect the corporate brand, reputation and market confidence.
Managing director – Europe
Information Age naming [the business intelligence product] Essbase as one of the Top Ten innovations of the last decade (‘Ten Year Top Tens', August 2005) raised a couple of queries.
Essbase was first released in mid 1992, so on what grounds does it qualify as an innovation of the last decade? Even then, it wasn't the first OLAP server, not by a long way, and Essbase was clearly derivative of some 1980s products. Arbor Software [Essbase's developer] had tremendously innovative marketing, which is what put Essbase and OLAP on the map, but I wouldn't say that Essbase is the most innovative product.
I think the biggest factor for making OLAP mainstream was Oracle's purchase of Express in 1995. That triggered all the other database vendors to take OLAP seriously, and Sybase, Informix, IBM, Teradata, Computer Associates and Microsoft all made investments soon afterwards.
Consultant and lead author of The OLAP Report
Editor's reply: These are all valid points – many of which we considered when making the selection.
The section was intentionally labelled the ‘Top 10 most influential innovations' to indicate a highlighting of the technologies that had the greatest impact – irrespective of when they first appeared.
In 1995, OLAP was not a mainstream technology. It did not feature in the pitches of any of the major BI companies. As Essbase started building momentum around that time it raised the awareness of the distinct technological advantages of OLAP and the opportunity for its wider use across the business – a situation hugely influenced by Arbor's decision to hire the inventor of the relational database, Ted Codd, to endorse the ‘rules' behind what constituted an OLAP product. As such, it triggered many other BI vendors to get into the OLAP market.
In response to comments made by Ray Titcombe and David Roberts in your article ‘Software licence mismanagement is a crime' (Information Age June 2005), I would like to highlight that FAST Corporate Services has been helping organisations to manage software licensing for over 10 years. FAST provides an educational programme to help members achieve the FAST Standard for Software Compliance (FSSC-1:2004). Today we have 8,000 corporate members with whom we are working to create an effective and compliant software management regime.
I agree that asset management tools alone cannot cope with all licence variations. That is why as part of our programme we advocate a four-step process to manage software licensing.
Our experience shows that most non-compliance is a result of ignorance and the view that achieving a compliant regime is daunting. We much prefer to work with those end-users who accept the challenge.
FAST Corporate Services
Mobile virus hype
I was frustrated but not surprised to read the predictions of a major anti-virus vendor that mobile phone viruses are set to become a debilitating problem in coming months and years (‘A Secure Future?’ Information Age July 2005).
At present, less than 0.001% of calls into the specialist data support environment are in any way related to mobile viruses. The majority of current viruses or Trojans are well-known within the industry as ‘proof-of-concept’ — meaning they have been developed for the specific intention of highlighting existing vulnerabilities – so this has all the hallmarks of a marketing exercise which serves to reinforce the popular business model of the anti-virus industry. The reality of the situation is that viruses barely register on the list of practical problems that are holding back today’s mobile users.
By contrast, nearly 40% of calls into the support environment arise from configuration issues, typically involving GPRS or the setting up of SMTP servers. These are critical to the successful operation of the most popular services, including mobile email.
This demonstrates well how constant fears over security can be a red herring. If smart phone users are unable to start using their device to its fullest extent straight out of the box, they will not even have the chance to be concerned about mobile malware.
Admittedly, the converged mobile device will eventually boast a highly complex operating system that will inevitably become the target of choice for virus writers – but only in the longer term. It would be a shame if ill-informed concerns over viruses were to hold back the rise of the smart phone, whose appeal as a business tool cannot be denied.
Head of communications