Honchos Envision Web Impact on Corporate IT

Change. Change now. Change or die.

Ten minutes at Tivoli Systems Inc.’s annual Planet Tivoli conference recently was long enough to recognize the motif.

Here’s the way the winds of change will blow, according to conference speakers.

Start with the premise that nearly the full range of human endeavours soon will be on the Web. “More than 150 million people worldwide are online, and the number grows daily by 15,000 in the United States alone,” said Louis F. Gerstner, IBM’s chairman and CEO.

Because customers of all businesses will expect to be able to conduct transactions of every kind over the Web, companies must focus on making their Web sites work seamlessly. “Quality that was acceptable on the Internet last year is no good this year,” Gerstner said.

The way to ensure Web site quality and efficiency is to create an Internet team responsible for the site, said Michael Clifford, Dell Computer Corp.’s vice-president and CIO. And expect and plan for 50 per cent of sales to be via the Web in just a few years.

The successful Web site will be a portal that brings customers into direct and extensive contact with a company’s information technology infrastructure – a frightening thought for network security managers, said F. Selby Wellman, Cisco Systems Inc.’s senior vice-president. Allowing wide-ranging extranet communications will call for better security. “A couple levels of passwords aren’t going to cut it,” Wellman noted.

But “putting a Web site in front of lousy business processes just advertises how lousy they are,” said consultant Michael Hammer of Hammer & Co. So look for changes in business processes down to such details as forms used in back-office functions.

That the forms must be electronic is a given. However, those used by external customers in making purchases and those used internally to access back-office databases also must be the same, noted Dell’s Clifford.

“Why would you want different forms,” he said, when use of the same forms and exchanging information via message brokers can avoid data re-entry, prevent errors and save time and money?

An inside-the-firewall, network-centric IT strategy is by its nature doomed to failure, and that failure can take an entire business down with it, Gerstner said. The good news, he believes, is that it’s not too late for companies to embrace the concept and thrive.

“For every meteor with ‘dot com’ in their name, there are thousands of solid businesses with powerful experience.” If they Web-enable their core business practices, their influence will be far-reaching, Gerstner said.

The range of machines that network administrators will be asked to manage will broaden to include products that have yet to appear, such as combination wireless phone/e-mail/pager devices. Waiting in paralysed dread of the management headaches these new technologies will bring isn’t an action plan for success, conference attendees were warned.

Among the lessons Dell learned along the way to Internet success, Clifford said, is how important it is to “embrace emerging technologies.”