IT Management Issue
is short for both World Wide Web and Wild Wild Web. It is truly a new
frontier. Likened to the Americas of the 19th century, the pathfinders
have made it to the Pacific Ocean and back a few times but many losses
have been suffered along the way. As in those times, people who want to
make the journey to the gold fields of the West choose among a number
of guides who tell them what to pack, what supplies to buy and how to
prepare their gear for the journey. The guides were in the business of
making money and were driven by adventure. Records show that they did
not hold a detailed briefing of the dangers and choices that would be
made over the three month journey until after several days on the trail.
So too the e-Builders of today.
e-Commerce initiatives are being driven by the need for speed, resistance
to expansion of information technology departments, difficulty obtaining
skilled technicians, lack of knowledge about Web-building tools and techniques,
and concern over making investments in capabilities that will have a short
payback period. All of these forces drive companies to e-Builders and/or
Application Service Providers to get online quickly and minimize investment
risk. Do they get either?
Following are some section titles from the most recent annual report from
Inktomi, a very successful player in the e-Business infrastructure marketplace:
business model is untested:
"We have a history of operating losses, expect to incur future
losses, and cannot be certain that we will become a profitable company."
efforts to increase our presence in markets outside of the United
States may be unsuccessful and could result in losses."
success depends on our ability to expand our sales and support organizations."
marketplace is volatile:
"The markets in which we operate are highly competitive and
we may be unable to compete successfully against new entrants and
established companies with greater resources."
infrastructure market is rapidly changing and we must develop and
introduce new products and technologies to remain competitive."
are strong uncontrollable forces:
"The legal environment in which we operate is uncertain and
claims against us could cause our business to suffer."
related laws could adversely affect our business."
resources and capabilities will be in constant demand:
"Our success depends on our ability to manage growing and changing
not be able to recruit and retain the personnel we need to succeed."
acquisitions that we make could adversely affect our operations or
this describe a good guide through the perilous journey into the Wild
Wild Web? Perhaps not but, at this point in time, it describes many guides.
It is an honest appraisal of the environment within which all of the e-Builders
and e-Business enablers operate and will continue to operate for some
Enablers, and Service Providers have not been in business long enough
to have established repeatable processes, standardized infrastructure,
and stable software development platforms. Hiring practices for deployment
staff is driven by aggressiveness, intellect, malleability, skill, and
experience, usually in that order. Experience and skill are highly desirable
traits, but due to explosive growth in demand for e-Business capabilities,
the required numbers of skilled and experienced people are not there.
tools that e-Builders use change substantially twice each year and significantly
each quarter. It is just not practical to keep current. Depending on where
a client's project comes in the technology refresh cycle of a supplier,
last generation or next generation tools will be applied. What happened
to current generation tools? They don't exist! To assure a client that
its Web solution will be state-of-the-art, next generation tools must
be employed. Unfortunately, this only creates another source of risk.
may sound as though mission-critical systems are being built by inexperienced
people who both make up the process each time and use unproven tools.
This is an exaggeration - but not by too much. Welcome back to Electronic
Data Processing of the sixties and seventies.
web is the ultimate Experience-based market: A web site will present
the Brand, Image and Values of an enterprise to more people in less time
that any other medium. It will create a global customer engagement channel
over night. Those that visit the site will expect an experience that equals
or exceeds what they receive at competitor's sites and often competitors,
in web terms, may sell a completely unrelated product line and target
totally different markets. The web is the ultimate Experience-based market.
services demand integration of a complex set of technologies: Most
e-Business initiatives will combine external services such as Credit Card
Authorization, Installment Billing, Retail Banking, and Knowledge-bases
with internal capabilities such as Inventory Management, Pricing, and
Logistics. The pace of development and deployment will demand unprecedented
coordination to achieve schedule, cost, and performance goals.
enabling technologies demands a holistic approach: Selecting e-Builders
and associated service providers demands a much higher degree of business
and technology intensity than the selection of other information systems
such as Enterprise Requirements Planning or Human Resource Management
systems. e-Builders must have strength in business strategy development,
business process design, web creative design, web technology, network
security, legacy systems integration, performance management and a number
of supporting design, development, deployment and management capabilities.
A successful initiative needs a good deal of strength in all domains;
unfortunately such a provider is rare.
demands a process focus and project management: e-Commerce initiatives
are processes, not projects. They never end, and each stage introduces
new capabilities and additional complexity. Complexity drives cost and
risk. Consequently, they must be designed as a succession of stages.
- Brochure-ware could be deployed first to introduce the company,
management, products, value proposition, and current channels.
- A Self-selection capability would follow to help prospects find
solutions to their issues within the set of promoted products.
- Product Sales and Customer Service capabilities might be layered
- Subsequent stage might add tutorials, decision support tools, and
other devices to hold a relationship with customers.
While stage one is in production, stage two is in construction, stage
three is in design and concepts for stage four would be in development.
With two or more stages designed and scheduled well in advance, the technical
team has a good opportunity to maximize leverage, reuse and productivity.
Business managers and information technology managers must share accountability
for e-Commerce program success.
Technology Management Implications
e-Business systems are built using a highly interactive and iterative
development methodology. It appears as a spiral beginning at a point in
the center where basic capability and appearance goals are shared. Concepts
are designed and built then reviewed with the client. What works is carried
forward and what does not is discarded. Part of the design moves towards
the outside of the spiral (the end product), part stays at a given level
for more work and part is sent back down a level for re-consideration.
Essential elements must continually make progress towards the outer shell
of the finished product or project runaway will result.
software documentation: When the product is 'finished' there will
be little documentation of the steps along the way, what parts were successful
and what was abandoned. Spiral software development is a 'you have to
be there to understand it' experience. At the same time, most development
will consist of many linked (with some modification) building blocks each
of which can be understood and reused.
performance management complexity: When Application Service Providers
are part of the system configuration, security, availability, adaptability,
performance and integrity issues are distributed across all internal and
external providers. Consequently system performance management extends
beyond the points of connection and into the remote infrastructure.
Issues: e-Business technologists demand high total-compensation packages.
This has impact on two fronts. Consulting and contract labor costs will
be high causing high cost burn-rates. Additionally, the difference between
internal and external labor costs can cause retention and morale issues.
Both impacts suggest that attention be paid to the caliber and apparent
productivity of external staff.
Volatile information technology tools and infrastructure components can
disrupt the technology environment. Decisions must be made between adopting
such technologies and passing them by for a future generation. Forward-looking
information technology architecture planning is necessary to separate
the one-off products from new-standard candidates. The same issues need
to be addressed regarding skills and competency levels for internal staff.
of responsibility for success: One information technology management
issue is pervasive. Project management is the responsibility of the buyer.
There are too many facets to these programs to abdicate responsibility
for the delivery of either work products or business results by assigning
the role to external staff.
- e-Business infrastructure is very different from that of mainframe,
distributed computing, and client-server environments.
- The user count can be several orders of magnitude greater.
- Transaction volumes grow much more rapidly.
- International presence is instantaneous.
- Security issues are totally new and change weekly.
- The toolkit is made up of many more low-level components.
- Staffing and competency management issues are much more severe.
- Cycle-times are dramatically reduced.
- Technical complexity is much greater.
- When Application Service Providers are employed, their architecture
can influence that of the client. Enterprise architecture must be
adaptable to change within the enterprise as well as changes to current
and potential external providers.
- Adopting services from external providers stresses the clarity and
governance of an enterprise technical architecture.
- Be as clear as you can about your business goals. Pay particular
attention to Image, Branding, Market Penetration, Revenue, and Cost
goals. Set measures and time frames and share all of this information
with internal and external teams.
- Understand that web site development is a divergent process. Customer
expectations demand a frequent (several months) renewal cycle of their
experience and the change cycle is only a bit shorter than the need
- Insist that you and your partners share a common vision of:
- Image and Branding
- Your customer's expectations
- Future refresh cycles
- Transaction growth expectations
- Assure business continuity contractually and through knowledge transfer.
- Don't think that a 25 yr old company will necessarily be more reliable
than one that is 24 weeks old. They draw from the same short experience,
staffing pools, and tool boxes.
Technology Management Response
- Assess the technical capability of all external and internal technical
staff either directly or with an unbiased partner. Verify the tool kit,
skills, knowledge-transfer ability, and delivery methods to minimize
- Examine the architecture of external service providers (and those
that may be providers in the near future) and alter the enterprise architecture
- Examine the interconnection capabilities of external service providers
(and those that may be providers in the near future) and alter enterprise
- Consider the impact of the external partner's technologies, skills,
and compensation on internal staff and take defensive measures proactively.
- Use the knowledge gap between internal and external staff to pull
the internal staff forward.
- Involve internal and external staff in decisions around architecture,
infrastructur, and standards changes.
- Identify essential new technology components and assign shadows from
the internal staff to acquire critical skills during the development
- Make the hard decisions concerning products that will become standards
and skills that will be adopted.
- Take the lead on risk management regarding all information technology