“It’s an evolution,” says Robert C. Rhodes, CEO of Systems Evolution. “In the 1980s, business users were able to start entering and storing data in spreadsheets and lists islands of data with specific uses, stored in diverse locations. The early 1990s saw deployment of these islands of data into departments and smaller business units (client/server) and a new emphasis on drill-down reporting capabilities. The late 1990s saw the ubiquitous deployment of information and shared data on the Internet, which has brought the 2000s focus on open standards and the need for better security.”
Smart Business talked to Rhodes about this evolution from islands of data to information available anywhere, any time, over the Internet.
How do you start to implement a new IT system?
Integration of these islands of data requires business professionals with an eye on business requirements what data, where is it, how you got it, the business process, and how users need to view the aggregated information. Many IT professionals adhere to the oft repeated mantra, ‘You get started programming, and I’ll figure out what the client needs.’ This is a surefire recipe for disaster, and believe it or not this still reigns as a business practice.
To be successful in implementing a new system, put a plan together for what your business needs, set short milestones for its implementation, and document your progress.
Creating the applications that capture your data and report on the information is becoming easier, as most applications are available off the shelf. The leading software vendors such as Microsoft, IBM and Oracle provide 75 percent or more of required functionality for most businesses; it’s that last 25 percent that requires the IT professional to bridge the gap between provided functionality and customization.
How do you tie it together?
Systems integration costs as much or more than the off-the-shelf software itself, but this is where the true payoff is. Today’s custom solution development is much easier than in the past. With IBM Rational and Microsoft or IBM graphical development business requirement suites, purchased software and custom-developed software provide excellent documentation for future customization and business process re-engineering.
What do these solutions look like?
For the end user, they look like one system available 24-7. In the back end, the application may tie together hundreds of interactions with diverse applications running on mainframes, Microsoft Windows servers or UNIX boxes all over the world. The application might take the view of an ‘executive dashboard’ management’s pertinent daily financial indicators updated in real time (such as backlog, works in progress, or what manufacturing machines are down) available via HTML in a custom-designed portal like Yahoo! or deployed to your Blackberry.
What can outside service providers do for a company?
Knowing your business requirements and having a solution integrating your diverse data and systems only helps you if you can access it when you need it, and if others are kept out.
Most businesses aren’t equipped to handle the constant tide of attacks, constant security monitoring, nor software patches coming out on a daily basis for your operating systems, hardware, servers and communication infrastructure. Using outside service providers that specialize in the ‘managed care’ of your computing resources allows business executives to be sure that their computing resources are being proactively reviewed and managed, as opposed to allowing those resources to break and then fix them.
These managed service providers can totally outsource your computer servers offsite, or they can provide a level or monitoring interacting with your internal IT employees.
So how do you use IT as a strategic tool?
In business today, every employee, client and machine in your organization are generating data in real time, which causes information overload. Start with your business requirements, integrate your systems, and pro-actively manage your infrastructure. In other words, let your business drive IT not IT drive your business.
Listen and act with the highest levels of integrity and only commit to what you can deliver and deliver what you commit to. Assure your clients that you meet your commitments by following consistent and repeatable processes whether it’s in the way you manage projects, develop software or maintain your client’s information technology. Follow well-documented methodologies that help assure that you deliver your projects on time and within budget.
ROBERT C. RHODES is CEO of Systems Evolution in Houston. Reach him at (713) 979-1600, ext. 105 or Robert.Rhodes@systemsevolution.com.