Business Technology: New Concepts, Killer Apps, And Stinky Tofu

Spent five fascinating days meeting with business-technology vendors in the Bay area last week. Noticed some things I hadn't seen on other such trips

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

November 15, 2002

4 Min Read

Spent five fascinating days meeting with business-technology vendors in the Bay area last week. Noticed some things I hadn't seen on other such trips: Some companies actually expect people to PAY for bottles of water or soft drinks--remember when everything in the company commissary from Perrier to Puppy Chow was offered free, free, free? About 25% of the companies we visited have pushed the concept of scalability out to their whiteboards--some conference rooms are lined with them, floor to ceiling, while a couple of companies have turned office doors into whiteboards: "Biking--back 3:00--Niners by 6 w/pts!" Saw a tanker truck headed south on 101 bearing the warning sign, "Inedible Shortening--Nontoxic Waste Product." Heard about a dish served at a very formal dinner in China called "Stinky Tofu" that pushed the outer limits of stinky to points generally beyond human endurance--secret infusions reported to be spoiled cabbage, sweaty gym socks, and excessive fermentation. Thought of the need for detox--the extreme kind.

And speaking of detox, in a totally different context, the concept of "detox projects" was raised by Oracle CFO Jeff Henley. He described these as situations wherein customers are looking not only to upgrade their software but also to purge their systems and processes of the bad habits of the past: getting rid of customized software, adopting new and more-effective business processes, and looking for common standards. Henley also cited the need for a relentless focus on centralization, a concept he hammers on when meeting with customers because it's the only way to achieve consistent, timely, meaningful results. The road to real-time business, Henley said, has to pass through tightly integrated systems, single-instance processes, and robust scalability so that online transaction-processing systems can run in production environments while queries are run against them for business intelligence without having to be run through a data warehouse.

Heard from Network Appliance CEO Dan Warmenhoven that Oracle has installed 400 terabytes of Network Appliances storage. Though quite a staggering number, it's hardly in the league of the petabyte of Net Apps storage over at Yahoo. Learned about new ideas for data-center consolidation, mirroring, and even a financial-services company that's just created the position of chief storage officer.

Was put on the spot by Juniper Networks co-founder and chief technology officer Pradeep Sindhu, who asked, "What is the killer app for PCs?" Unsuccessfully tried to buy time by clearing my throat and asking him to repeat the question, then was told the answer is "Everything." And that the goal of most companies these days, whether they know it or not, is universal connectivity, and that the only technology tool with a chance of delivering that is IP. But that some business-technology people resist buying into that because experience has taught them that trying to get six different networks with six different network protocols to work together is incredibly hard, and accordingly No Single Thing can change that so therefore the rejection of the proposition that IP can do it.

Got powerful consensus on the Ascendancy of Architecture as a top-level priority, on business processes as indispensable partners to technology, and on real-time business as a strategic goal for all companies. Heard widespread endorsements for high-level solutions partners, and for doing more with less or, for the fortunate, with the same. Learned that when it comes to revenue and forecasts, the new definition of up is "flat."

One puzzle unsolved, though: What in blazes is "inedible shortening," and can we be sure it's nontoxic?

Bob Evans,
Editor in Chief ([email protected])

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