Which architecture issues should be discussed with business managers?
Mostly work architecturesthe way in which the organization will do work. What are the standard business processes we're going to use, and what are the standard platforms on which we're going to build those processes?
Do you mean computer platforms?
That means computer platforms, data platforms, telecommunications platforms and applications platforms. Once you go with SAP AG, for example, as an ERP, you set an architecture by default. That's good for firms where the use of the technology is not a competitive advantage. But when technology is a source of competitive advantage, you need to be more active in setting architectures as an embodiment of strategy. And you can't rely on an ERP provider to do that.
Firms are struggling with how to get data out of applications and into some centralized place. I would argue that the notion of a data architecture is now something that is firmly part of the business planning process, or should be. Managers shouldn't be setting their data architectures; they should be setting the governance structure so that sensible data architecture decisions are made by the people who have a stake in the issue.
Business managers might find it tough to discuss such issues. How can CIOs effectively discuss infrastructure with them?
The notion of business maxims or principles works well. The business has a responsibility to identify the principles of doing business, and the IT folks can then translate that into principles for managing IT. Once you have them, decisions about IT infrastructure investments are a lot easier.
Imagine that the business maxim for Johnson & Johnson was to manage its global customers through a single point of contact. That would be a business maxim. So what's the IT maxim? We need to have common and shared data in the following categories: customer data, financial data and product data. And the data should only be entered once and used by all. So the business folks set the business maxims, and the business folks and the IT folks together set the IT maxims. And then the IT folks deliver on the infrastructure to make those maxims happen.
Where do you see e-business heading as we move forward?
The future of e-business has to do with the migration across atomic models. Companies are going to capitalize on successes in one model to move to another. For example, we are seeing companies migrate from the direct-to-customer to full-service provider model, or from content provider to virtual community to direct-to-customer. Lonely Planet, the Australian travel guide company, started as a content provider. Since then it's migrated into a direct-to-customer firm, selling books from its Web site; an e-mail, voice mail and long-distance call service for travelers; and a city guide for the Palm. It is also becoming a virtual community.
What emerging technologies or services provide the greatest opportunity for e-business strategy and e-business infrastructure?
I'm a bit of a mobile e-commerce skeptic at the moment. I'm not convinced yet that we're going to do major transactions on m-commerce. It's still pretty difficult to make it work, and the interfaces we have are not very convincing.
I think voice-activated Internet access will be very strong. I'm very optimistic about products like OnStar, the General Motors concierge service, [which links drivers directly to OnStar customer service staff]. They can provide a whole bunch of services through their call centers, and that's a lifetime revenue stream for GM and just a great opportunity to add to their portfolio of businesses. Integrating multiple sources of data at a point where you can take action, like a call center or an ATM, is the future of technology. I'm very excited about that level of customer service.
What should CIOs do to avoid being the cause of an e-business disaster?
We don't have the unseemly haste anymore to get to market fast. We went through this phase of having to be first because we thought that would create valuebut that turned out not to be the case. So I think CIOs can push back a little bit in terms of speed versus quality.
There's been a return to rationality in terms of business models. The disciplines of business models and business cases that we've been using for 10 years went out the window for a while. Now CIOs should be a source of reason and rationality about what's doable from a technical point of view. That's important.