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Software // Information Management

Nowhere to Hide

Whether by choice or by law, transparency is a top priority. The ripple effects will alter how businesses operate.

A funny thing happened on my way to the editor's page. By "funny," I mean strange and bewildering. I found myself a few days ago in a room with current and prospective customers of a software vendor, all speaking openly in roundtable fashion, and the vendor knew I was there.

Was it a setup? Were only happy customers invited, to make prospects and press believe everything was hunky-dory? If so, there certainly were a lot of happy customers to invite, willing to take a day to discover how they can get more out their implementations. Moreover, the customers did have some suggestions for improvements. But nowhere evident was the jagged edge of frustration that you see in customers whose needs are met with little more than lip service by a smoke-and-mirrors vendor who has them locked in a long-term deployment and contract.

RightNow Technologies, the vendor about which I write, has forced itself to keep its customers happy. More than 80 percent of them use the hosted version of the software, the contracts are short term, and customers are allowed to try before they buy. Of course, it's harder to sell by this model when your application, such as ERP, is more unwieldy and requires a lot of customization. Still, many vendors could benefit from adopting this more-transparent, customer-friendly stance. And RightNow aren't exactly simple applications...

Transparency means accountability. Futurist David Brin was saying in 1999 that the industrial-age notion that we (as individuals) can live in anonymity is clashing against technology that makes our lives an open book. We have to adapt, he said, to the small-town mindset that there's no such thing as privacy. Don Tapscott, Intelligent Enterprise contributing editor, says essentially the same cultural shift applies to businesses.

RightNow and other businesses, such as Progressive Insurance, have taken a lot of voluntary steps toward transparency that have ostensibly helped their competitiveness. But many businesses — all that are publicly traded or hope to be — are being forced by law to become more transparent. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) raises financial audit and reporting standards.

SOX and other corporate governance laws have catalyzed efforts in many businesses to improve processes and systems for budgeting, planning, workflows, and other enterprise activities assisted by IT. In this issue, you'll find information on how to leverage compliance efforts for greater benefit to the enterprise as a whole. Since many businesses have to spend money to get in line with the law, Dean Sorensen points out (page 16), the progressive ones are exploring whether they can derive other advantages from those investments, such as improving customer focus and loyalty. Robert Kugel's feature (page 22), meanwhile, tells you how to save money on those forced investments. The News & Analysis department (page 7) further explores SOX issues.

Here's hoping that you don't uncover any funny business on your way to SOX compliance.

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