Internet climbs into I/S top five
- By Sandra Taylor
One of the fascinations of doing demand-side market research is
seeing the trends unfold in the user information systems (I/S) organizations. The ensuing pie and bar charts represent
the rise and fall of sundry technologies -- and the myriad vendors supporting porting those technologies. In one
sense, the charts are the touchstone of reality. In a world where the press and analyst communities can easily
"adopt" new technologies with some research and a new sheet of paper in the printer, the various diagrams
reflect the more complex and lengthy task of merging new technologies into I/S mainstream development. As with
client/server technology, we saw the year-by-year growth as acceptance and the complexity of implementation moved
from the pioneers to the early adopters, and eventually into the I/S majority. Today, we see the same phenomena
with Internet and Java, albeit at a much faster pace.
Technology is not the only area that evolves. Research from 1997 reflects what we believe is a formidable change
in organizational status and implied areas of responsibilities for corporate I/S -- a change that may well be more
difficult to manage than the current rush of unfolding technologies.
Data, data and more data
The raw data from our annual development trends survey is in ... and our sincere thanks to the ADT readers who
participated in this stamina-wrenching research project. Now comes the equally formidable task of interpreting
and cross-referencing the data ... and generating that Executive Summary many of you requested. In the meantime,
we will use this column to present some of the more interesting results.
Nearly everyone expected the Internet-related responses to be high, but the magnitude of the response was nothing
short of awesome. Nearly 80% of respondents indicated that "Exploit Internet/Intranet Technology" is
on their I/S activities list. This percentage is up significantly from last year's 62.5%, and is among the top
five initiatives. It also showed the highest percentage increase -- up 16.7 percentage points from the previous
survey. At the near 80% mark, "Exploit Internet/Intranet Technology" now rivals two of the highest response
percentages in the survey -- the use of Windows 95 on the desktop and the use of NT as a development platform.
Not bad for a technology that is still in its infancy, or at most, in its adolescence.
While the numbers are high, they do not necessarily mean every I/S organization in the world is tumbling willy-nilly
and head-long into building Internet-enabled business-critical systems. Yes, the trend is toward net-enabling mission-critical
applications. But there is also a sense (from responses to other questions) the march into the world of the Internet,
Intranets and Extranets is generally measured and planned -- a far cry from the ready-fire-aim approach taken with
the early RAD tools.
The I/S hot seat
Not that we are telling I/S groups something new here, but the research confirms a heightening demand for I/S
organizations to improve the quality of their deliverables, accelerate the schedule for those deliverables and
do it all at a lower cost.
IMPROVED QUALITY One has to wonder if the responses to this question might be a little bit of
motherhood and apple pie. On the other hand, there are changes afoot that drive the quality issue. The sheer visibility
of Internet applications is one of those changes. Net-enabled applications are not isolated and protected from
the eyes and keyboards of top level managers. Now, the results of I/S development efforts will be out there for
all to see. And where an unsatisfied consumer will just quietly leave, a dissatisfied CEO is not likely to be so
Another quality driver comes from the answer to the research question "Who funds I/S projects?" Our
respondents indicated business units were just as likely to be the source of funding as a corporate I/S fund. While
the relationships between business units and I/S groups are as varied as the parties involved, the business unit's
sense of ownership that comes from funding a project begets a natural tendency to want a quality deliverable.
COMPRESSED DEVELOPMENT SCHEDULES Among the top five initiatives, this item garnered the second
largest percentage growth -- up 14.4% from last year's survey. What becomes interesting here is the class of application
these I/S respondents say they are developing. Over 50% of respondents indicated they are delivering mission-critical
applications. In this context, the pressure to bring these applications to market is readily understandable.
We believe there is another aspect to this time-to-market issue -- the predicted increase in tool suites that
promise increased productivity. In addition to all things related to the Internet and Java, the following have
predicted growth rates of differing magnitude over the next two years: modeling, rule-based development, horizontal
and vertical frameworks.
COST REDUCTION You are not alone as an I/S professional if you have been feeling that cost issues are
becoming more important. In contrast to last year's survey, respondents to this survey reflect an increasing emphasis
on issues relating to I/S expenses. There is obviously a cost aspect in the initiative to develop applications
at a faster pace. But our respondents also highlighted the issues associated with system maintenance and other
hidden costs associated with client/server technology.
There is no doubt that client/server technology is a boon to productivity. As a user with a laptop, who does
as much work at home as in the office, I cannot imagine life without Office 95 ... oops, Office 97 as of January
19. But that productivity comes with a price tag. The upgrade from 95 to 97 meant that I/S had to "touch"
everyone's PC, an irritating, non-productive task in small companies like SPG and a huge time sink in large companies.
Obviously the focus on zero administration facilities, NCs and the promise of the Internet's automatic delivery
mechanisms should help the situation. But in the world of business and I/S, things just do not happen overnight,
and it will take time to integrate these new technologies and the systems/infrastructure on which they run.
Centralize the control of I/S
Nearly 50% of respondents indicated they were centralizing the control of I/S resources, compared with 15% who
were decentralizing the control. For those 50%, we believe this task may well be your most significant challenge.
Once surrounded by impenetrable glass houses, the 80s saw the power and influence of corporate I/S groups erode
in favor of the distributed (and frequently isolated) computing paradigm. As we approach the turn of the century,
it would appear the balance is again shifting. Corporate I/S groups are once again moving into the spotlight --
and facing increased pressure to fulfill the responsibilities of this new role.
While organizational power structures naturally tend to cycle, SPG Analyst Services believes the Internet is
one of the major catalysts driving this particular organizational shift. In the heydays of distributed computing,
this often meant customers had to contact several groups to review their total account status. Naturally, because
each line of business had its own system -- savings, checking, mortgage, home equity, credit card, etc. The Internet
changes all that, both from the mindset of today's customers and from the perspective of providing a single, standard
and controlled entry point into a corporation's business processes. With the current business focus on customer
service and the capabilities provided by the Internet, the tendency is now to integrate access to those systems.
And corporate groups are the natural leaders of this integration effort. In some cases, the applications are being
totally re-designed and re-written. In others, the systems are being integrated by bridging software that links
them to various systems with the click of a mouse.
Not for the faint-hearted
The world of corporate I/S is not for the faint-hearted. Manage a corporate integration effort across lines
of business that may or may not want to be integrated. Improve the quality of I/S products and services. Develop
applications faster. Reduce I/S
expenses. Exploit new technology that is evolving at breakneck speed. And if you have not already done so, deal
with the year 2000 issues. It is no wonder CIOs are on the endangered species list and battle-hardened designers
and developers with good track records are worth their weight in gold.
Is there a model for success? From the I/S groups we have talked with, the answer is yes and no. There does
not seem to be a cookie cutter approach that consistently works -- either in terms of organizational or technology
solutions. The commonality among the successful I/S groups? They all have a plan and they are very focused on implementing
that plan. Some groups have a strong central team implementing new systems. Others have developed more of an integrate-the-teams-and-systems-we-have
approach. Some have migrated from the mainframe to client/server and will move to the Internet when the time is
right. Some will leap right from the mainframe to Internet-enablement. But they all have a plan, a long range vision,
that works best for their company in their market.
Sandra Taylor is director of SPG Analyst Services, Natick, Mass.