diminishing business decision cycle
is no longer a choice
Business Environment Means Constant Change
In today's world the business decision cycle is constantly getting shorter and
takes place in an environment of continual change. To compete successfully,
modern companies must rapidly adapt to changing market conditions. Decision
making in close to real time is becoming the norm as competitive product offerings
are constantly improved in order to gain market share. A number of factors drive
this diminishing of the decision horizon.
of electronic business transactions.
With the coming of Internet based commerce the already large number of electronic
business transactions is set to increase exponentially and with it the immediate
availability of large volumes of market data. The term 'transaction' is used
here to denote any activity which occurs on the Internet, be it an enquiry for
information such as a stock price, or the purchase of goods where the transaction
involves checking against the inventory, transferring funds from a bank and
arranging shipping of the goods to the customer. The speed at which this information
is captured, analysed and fed back into manufacturing, shipping, billing and
marketing activities is what gives a company its competitive edge. As information
volumes increase there is no time to trawl through it all to spot significant
business events, yet key decision makers need to be alerted to them immediately.
of time to market.
New and improved products must be brought to market quickly to stay ahead of
competitors, and the supply chain must be streamlined to support the just in
time (JIT) inventories now maintained by suppliers. This contraction of the
product delivery pipeline further shrinks the time available for making business
are computer based.
As we move towards an information based service economy the products offered
are frequently software based, such as financial, travel and media services.
Even where physical products are involved the manufacturing process is likely
to be computer controlled. Thus the speed at which new products can be created
and existing products improved is approaching electronic levels. For example
the Benetton chain of clothes stores is famous for its ability to rapidly alter
its production schedule ("more green sweaters please") in response
to customer sales data from its outlets.
are becoming more customer facing.
Corporations are rushing to be more customer facing and customer transactions
are the key information resource, with their timely analysis being critical
to staying ahead of the competition. Ironically many businesses find this extremely
difficult due to the product based nature of their IT systems. Many insurance
systems, for instance, are policy based and cannot easily produce a list of
all the policies an individual customer holds. With the increasing use of call
centres to gain competitive advantage such failures to provide integrated customer
data cannot be tolerated.
All these factors
lead to the ever tighter inter-dependency and integration of the business decision
cycle and require equivalent levels of integration and inter-operation in the
supporting IT systems.
Adding to the
pressure created by the integration of the decision cycle is the changing environment
within which companies are struggling to achieve the integrated IT processes
necessary to support it. Two factors in particular create this changing environment
and cause integration problems.
The key to successfully managing the shrinking decision cycle is the rapid availability
of business information and the ability to analyse and act on it equally quickly.
It is only via highly performant computer technology that this can be achieved
and so the dependence of successful businesses on reliable computer technology
becomes ever greater. In the technology marketplace the desire to satisfy these
dependency driven demands promotes rapid technological innovation and the decision
cycle shortens even further as all the processes involved move towards electronic
speed. However, frequent changes to the technology platform supporting the decision
cycle, can be highly disruptive with wrong technology choices being very costly,
since poorly performing systems lose business.
The current business environment seemingly encourages frequent corporate restructuring
whether caused by mergers and acquisitions, or simply the re-positioning of
a company around its core competencies. In these circumstances the clash of
competing technologies can lead to damaging delays in the integration of the
business decision cycle. Frequently the clash of technologies is a reflection
of competing corporate cultures and job security issues which practically achieve
the status of a religious war. Failure to integrate multiple competing technologies
can further disrupt the business.
as businesses become ever more dependent on technology to support the integration
of the business decision cycle they also need to somehow decouple themselves
from it. In particular businesses must minimise the disruptive effects of the
rapid technology changes taking place and the diverse technological environment
in which they operate.
Needs Are Driving Technology Trends
To cope with the ever increasing demands of the business environment and the
integration needs it creates numerous technology trends are now emerging. A
core set of these trends is now well established.
The move is away from monolithic end-to-end applications and towards replaceable,
reusable components. Scarce company IT resources need to be focused on core
business functionality otherwise it's 'buy donŐt build', with best of breed
components selected for each specific need. Software components offer functionality
in an open fashion via published interfaces, or messages, to allow their integration
via plug and play mechanisms. The appearance of software components can be viewed
as part of the incremental move towards object based computing. However, business
critical legacy systems cannot simply be discarded but must also be made available
as components whenever possible. Wrapper technology has emerged that allows
closed proprietary functionality to be integrated into plug and play environments.
Departments may occasionally be single platform but enterprises are not, they
are multi-platform. A variety of hardware, operating system releases, databases,
object standards and user interface devices must be integrated.
of user interface devices.
As programmable logic becomes ubiquitous the range of user interface devices
is expanding. Network computers, Web browsers, kiosk technology, NetPCs, PCs,
Automated Teller Machines, TV set-top boxes, Palm-based technology, mobile phones,
interactive voice response units and dumb terminals, are now all in use.
of information resources.
The separation of processing and data storage is giving way to the provision
of pre-processed data via application interface mechanisms. This trend creates
information resources which become components in the enterprise infrastructure
and which hide their implementation details. This too is part of the move towards
a more object oriented model.
of information resources.
With implementation details hidden behind the information resource interfaces
many different foundations may underlie them including traditional file systems,
on-line databases, data warehouses, legacy applications, application packages
(such as SAP) and real-time data feeds.
of information resources.
In an environment where multiple different information resources co-exist their
synchronisation is critical if accurate data is to be maintained.
(so much data so little time).
As information overload becomes a real possibility and the decision cycle continues
to diminish many users simply do not have the time to seek out significant information.
Push technology, sometimes called publish and subscribe event brokers, and intelligent
agents all exist in order to notify users when something of interest happens.
With the arrival of Internet commerce, the user community accessing a resource
is potentially open-ended. Once a system is opened up to the Web the user community
may be measured in the millions. Three tier and multi-tier software architectures
allow the multiplexing of large numbers of users into information resources
via the thin client/fat server model and pro-vide the ability to scale up applications
while maintaining performance, which is a business necessity.
all lead towards integrated highly scaleable, plug and play, cross platform,
component based solutions and can be characterised as the coming of age of the
client/server model. It has been described elsewhere (in 'The Essential Client/Server
Survival Guide' by Orfali, Harkey, Edwards 1996) as 'intergalactic networking'
or 'the second client/server revolution' where everything in the client/server
world is sold 'a la carte'. It is in this diverse environment, that systems
which can be integrated to support the business decision cycle, need to be implemented
in a reliable, scaleable and flexible manner. The environment poses challenges
but also offers solutions.
Platform For Change Enabled Solutions
The challenge then is to deploy a flexible component based system, on a changing
mixed-platform foundation, which supports the accelerating business decision
cycle. Failures to do so have been well publicised and usually suffer from integration,
scalability and inflexibility problems. It is now widely accepted that deploying
flexible component based applications in a rapidly changing environment, requires
a solid software infrastructure supporting a multi-tiered architecture.
There is now
a common software architecture emerging from many corporate strategy groups
and industry organisations looking at these issues. In this architecture a variety
of information resources advertise business services through an information
bus while thin client programs attach to the bus and access these services.
The implementation details of the services by the information resources are
completely encapsulated and hidden from the clients.
The main purpose
of the infrastructure is to support a layered, scaleable software architecture
of three tiers :
an information access tier in which client processes can operate and gain access
to the information bus while providing a user interface via a variety of devices
an information bus through which information resources can advertise their business
level services and through which the clients can make service requests
an information resource tier in which business logic can be implemented that
encapsulates, or 'front ends', different data and analytical resources and offers
related business level services to the clients (or to the other information
resources) via the information bus.
The key features
provided by such infrastructures are :
application partitioning (the separation of the user interface from the business
multiple client/server communication models for accessing the business logic
component integration (a plug and play environment)
the potential for enterprise level management standards support
platform independence (by supporting components running on a variety of platforms)
It is in support
of this kind of architecture that an e-commerce transaction platform has been
developed by BEA Systems. In the early days of client/server many organisations
attempted to implement their own platform with limited degrees of success. A
implementation involves major development and maintenance efforts and can quickly
drain resources from an organisation's core business. In today's IT marketplace
of buy-don't-build, BEA's 'mature e-commerce transaction platform' is already
available, providing all of the features described above. This platform enables
organisations to manage their rapidly changing environment, whilst moving into
new business market-places.
A complete solution to the problems caused by the shrinking business decision
cycle, involves the use of an e-commerce transaction platform, to provide the
necessary levels of integration and performance in supporting technology. If
the systems demanded by today's business decisions are to be deployed successfully
then a robust software is needed, and this is what BEA provides. BEA de-couples
the application from the underlying platform and provides a measure of future
proofing while the multi-tier architecture allows for scaling applications to
meet ever higher business transaction rates.
short history of client/server computing, technology has evolved rapidly and
has matured around a 3-tier (or multi-tier) architecture through which business
level services are made available and presented to the end user. The next step
in the evolution is towards the presentation of business objects and their business
To create systems
that will support the business decision cycle into the 21st century, the key
architectural design point is the move to a multi-tier architecture. By introducing
an e-commerce transaction platform into the implementation, a flexible, scaleable
system will be created which can handle changes in the underlying technology
changes, with minimum disruption and which can be scaled up to provide the increasing
performance levels, remorselessly demanded by the accelerating business decision