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9/13/2002
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Business Technology: Time For Real-Time Business Is Now

About two years ago, we ran a story exploring some of the changes the Covisint online exchange was expected to bring to the automotive industry. Faster, cheaper, better, less wasteful, more efficient -- all worthy objectives. Lurking behind and uniting all those individual targets, though, is an ideal state, an idealized set of processes and business-technology architecture and systems for which companies in not only the automotive sector but also every industry in the world are striving: real-time business.

As some of the companies involved were trying to visualize what the online exchange could deliver if fully optimized, one Covisint executive said something to this effect: "If we get this up and running properly, when a customer in a showroom orders leather seats, some cow in Nebraska will flinch." From the customer to the salesperson to the sales manager who sends in the order to the order-entry clerk who takes it to the inventory manager who sees what's available to the multiple levels at the car manufacturer to the folks at the seatmaker and on out to their leather suppliers to the leather supplier's supplier on the farm and ultimately out to Ol' Bossy herself -- instant, consistent, transaction-driven information linking the ultimate supplier's supplier downstream through many levels to the ultimate customer's customer.

"All the world now faces a test and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding or will it be irrelevant?"

-- President George Bush's, Speech to the United Nations, Sept. 12, 2002


As is always the case with business technology, this is the latest step in an interlinked and ongoing series of advances that transform what we originally thought was the goal (ERP! SFA! TQM! CRM!) into a means to the end-state of heightened competitiveness, increased agility, and most important of all, greater success. E-business, which continues to be relevant and valuable, was about lighting up your own company and opening some new electronic doors to customers; Collaborative Business, which we first wrote about a year and a half ago, was about fully connecting your lit-up company to and aggressively sharing information with your customers and suppliers. Real-Time Business is about vigorously leveraging those hard-earned (mostly human) connections through optimized business processes that can take advantage of near-instantaneous communication across all the components of the collaborative network and are powered by the relentless advance of new and more-focused technologies, products, and services. It's a vastly different concept from terms such as real-time computing or real-time data -- those are nice, but they are in the larger scheme so much parsley and pepper, there to enhance and round out the main dish: the business itself.

If you'd like to see what some of your peers think about this Next Big Thing, take a look at InformationWeek Research's new report, built around a survey of 500 business-technology professionals (informationweekresearch.com/RTB). Some highlights are sprinkled through our cover package, but here's one that should raise some eyebrows: "Has your company built or does it plan to build an information architecture or network capable of delivering to managers real-time information or data inputs?" In all, 32% of respondents said yes, already built; another 43% said yes, but it's still only a plan; and 25% said no or don't know. I'm not sure which of those last two answers I'd rather have if I were called into the CEO's office. Then again, it wouldn't really matter -- that would be the last time I'd ever see that CEO.

Bob Evans
Editor-In-Chief
bevans@cmp.com

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