Engineering the route to e-success

If every company had a CEO as organized as Frank Baldeserra, creating an e-business infrastructure would probably be a breeze.

Baldeserra, a civil engineer by trade, is also the president and CEO of Woodbridge, Ont.-based ENGINEERING.COM Inc., an Internet-based software and business utility for the global engineering community.

About two years ago, Baldeserra and his partner Brian W. Semkiw, ENINEERING.COM’s chairman and director, took a long look at the needs of engineers. At that time, the partners realized the Internet was a medium engineers were embracing, so they decided to use the power of the Internet as a means to get closer to them and provide better solutions as a result.

According to Baldeserra, the development of ENGINEERING.COM’s e-business infrastructure began with a fundamental strategy that supported a global community of engineers.

“We have a very big vision,” he said. “By the year 2010, we want to be the premier supplier of information, technology and services to the engineering community globally.”

Upon being bombarded by a proliferation of proposals from many of Toronto’s largest consulting firms, ENGINEERING.COM selected IBM’s Global Services as the key partner to bring Baldeserra’s vision to life.

“We felt that (IBM) had the broadest range of software that you need to be able to provide a complete Web-based business,” he said.

Together ENGINEERING.COM and IBM decided that IBM’s WebSphere Commerce Suite and Managed e-business Services would be the best tools to implement the Web site.

Eric Oliver, business development executive for IBM’s Net Generation business, said that when beginning a project of this nature, there are normally six key steps involved.

First, according to Oliver, is to develop a business case with a key linkage to a value proposition and funding model. The next step is what he calls functional architecture, which simply is to describe what your intentions are in greater detail.

“Only then can you begin a technical discussion,” Oliver said. ” Technical architecture is given that you know what you want to do and, technically, what you need to deploy it. What are the building blocks you need? How do the building blocks go together and how do they operate? After the technical architecture is done, then you can start construction.”

The construction step is what Oliver refers to as application development, which includes taking the hardware and software components as well as the professional services in order to build the application that delivers on the promise of the business case. Once these steps are completed, the applications can be implemented into a production environment that will support the user. Finally, Oliver said, comes the operation and management step, a step he explained continues on indefinitely.

Oliver explained that while the above steps are a general guideline for companies wanting to develop the infrastructure for a Web-based business, ENGINEERING.COM was an exception.

“In this case, Frank came to us after really having accomplished the first two steps,” Oliver said. “They knew what they wanted to take to market and what their business case was. When you talk to Frank, he is really passionate about knowing the engineering community.”

Oliver said IBM entered the project at the third stage and began the technical architectural discussions, and completed the bulk of the execution work.

Both companies agreed that the major challenge faced in implementing the complex site was time. Baldeserra said that as engineers, his company understood that a good project takes time. IBM’s Oliver said that although Baldeserra had set an aggressive timeline for the completion of the site, thorough management discussions were held to determine what would get done in the designated time frame, and what would have to wait until future releases.

From the beginning stages of development to present, the process has taken the two companies just over a year to complete. However, Baldeserra said the site will never be fully finished. ENGINEERING.COM is already in its third release and plans for the fourth are in progress. As part of his vision, Baldeserra plans for quarterly upgraded releases of the site. He said that IBM is hosting the site and is providing ENGINEERING.COM with the latest software, and the consulting as needed.

“(From the beginning) we knew exactly what we wanted to do,” Baldeserra said. “We stuck to it and told IBM exactly what we wanted so they were able to give (us) exactly what we wanted, on budget, on time. (IBM’s) role is still as a partner to us and we will be using them on an as-needed basis forever.”

Baldeserra noted the most important thing for companies that intend to follow in the footsteps of companies like ENGINEERING.COM is to ensure they have a solid business model and the right people who can help them build a relationship between a customer and the Internet.

IBM’s Oliver said that from a service provider viewpoint, it was refreshing to talk to an executive who feels so strongly about what he wants to take to market.

“I think the reaction to (Frank’s) offering has served to confirm that his assessment and commitment and passion was on the mark.”