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Pursuing the elusive real-time enterprise

''Real-time enterprise'' (RTE) may sound like another buzzword, but according to Thomas Siebel, chairman and CEO at Siebel Systems (http://www.siebel.com), the notion that companies must integrate their IT infrastructures so thoroughly that management has instant, accurate, up-to-the-second information at its fingertips anytime, anywhere, is really a model of corporate survival.

''The number one problem facing every organization today is application integration,'' Siebel said during his keynote address at last week's Creating the Real-Time Enterprise conference in San Francisco. ''In two or three years, this is all we'll be talking about.''

Siebel said companies will spend billions in pursuit of the elusive RTE, which will blur the distinctions between CRM, ERP and supply-chain systems. The San Mateo, Calif.-based CRM systems maker is one of several CRM vendors jumping on the RTE bandwagon. PeopleSoft, for example, recently began running ads claiming that it is leading the charge into the real-time enterprise.

RTE is more of a concept than a specific technology or strategy. In a real-time enterprise, all company departments, customers, suppliers and partners are electronically connected via internal and Internet applications. This kind of cross application integration allows a company's IT systems to function like a 24-hour nerve center, instantly alerting managers to changes in customer demand, competitive situations, inventory, availability of supplies and profitability.

Call it business in an instant.

And it's not exactly a new idea. The basic concept is that what you don't know in business can and will hurt you. But this conference underscored a new urgency in informing people about the pursuit of real-time information for critical business processes. Conference sponsors call RTE ''the new business model for the next decade ... a fundamental paradigm shift in the way companies conduct business.''

Gartner (http://www.gartner.com) analysts have long pushed the need for real-time capabilities in corporate IT organizations. In November, speaking at the annual Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Cannes, France, Gartner declared that only organizations that can confidently call themselves ''real-time enterprises'' will thrive in the coming service-oriented economy. (Gartner calls it the ''now economy'' -- the successor to the old New Economy.) And they expect companies to begin moving toward an RTE orientation fairly quickly, with more than 20% of global enterprise CIOs citing RTE as one of their top five investment areas by the end of 2003.

Siebel said he believes the RTE can be a realistic goal of IT because of several ''RTE enablers,'' including the emergence of standards associated with business process software, such as the Universal Application Network (UAN), and Web services. Siebel characterized the UAN as ''the industry's first standards-based, vendor-independent application integration solution.''

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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