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e Server magazine

November 1997: Volume 13, Number 2


Communicating with Sam


Internet Strategy

By Sam Johnston

From the questions submitted, here is the selected topic for this issue...

Question:

have been under great pressure from my company to implement the Internet. I have been busy during the summer investigating the technologies and I must be honest I am very confused. I have looked at Web sites, Firewalls and Browsers. Our senior management is convinced, by recent advertising from companies like IBM, that the Internet is easy to implement. I have been trying to explain how complex the technology is. HTML, TCP/IP, Java, Domino, Network Computers there is so much to consider. Our company IT environment has not been leading edge. We have been on an AS/400 platform using terminal connectivity for 10 years.

We have only over the past couple of years implemented some isolated LANís for specific production applications. My management thinks that because we decided a couple of years ago to migrate our desktops from terminals to PCís that we have a progressive IT strategy and that we are strategically positioned to leverage technologies like the Internet. I feel they believe this because they have a modem in their notebook and have set up an Internet account with an ISP and have been communicating via E-mail and surfing the net for over a year now. As a result of their Internet use they view our IT organization as falling behind. Can you recommend a simple solution that will allow us to quickly implement the Internet?

Sam's Answer:

et me begin by telling you that you are not alone. Many AS/400 IT departments are facing the same dilemma. However, I feel that your issue is not about technology. The real issue is the transition that the role of IT has taken over the past couple of years in the AS/400 community. Traditionally, IT has developed and delivered technology solutions to support the business process needs of the various departments. Today, as you explained, departments are selecting the technologies and requesting that IT develop the process. This is forcing IT departments to become more focused on customer service.

The first technology that really started this evolution was Windows. End users demanded that IT deliver GUI Windows applications at the desktop so they could be empowered and be more productive. As a result of the Microsoft Windows revolution, AS/400 IT professionals have had to embrace, implement and support technologies like Client Server applications, PC LANís and WAN communications.

The real concern that IT should have with Internet technologies is how far the technology can reach. Windows technologies changed the way the end user worked, but implementing certain Internet technologies can change the way in which businesses service and transact with customers. Therefore, IT needs to begin to take a broader approach to their profession. We need to begin developing business solutions and not technology solutions. The technology must become secondary the same as it is in all other aspects of the business. Do customers really care how complicated it is for you to service their needs, or do they expect you to listen to their needs and implement or change any of your business processes that are necessary to meet their requirements?

In general, you need to think about Internet-based technologies in terms of four categories:

The Internet / Intranet is the one technology that I feel has caused most of the confusion - remember these terms refer to communication networks, and are most often confused to mean the Web applications, which are applications based on the open standard protocols of the Internet. The use of the Internet as an enterprise communications backbone is an idea that rarely makes sense, but is the one solution that many companies continue to implement. The original intention of the Internet was to provide an information network. Users accessed the network and surfed for information. As the Internet grew due to number of surfers and the amount of information available, the performance of the communications became an issue. Therefore, for response sensitive applications the Internet may not be the ideal solution for communications, but rather a private Intranet maybe more suitable.

A scenario that illustrates were both the Internet and an Intranet solution might make sense is a manufacturer of consumer based products wants to implement a two tiered go-to-market strategy to increase market share and sales volumes. For example, the strategy might include:

  1. Maintaining the use of retailers for traditional products, and;
  2. Providing direct ordering to consumers for new products where retail distribution would be a challenge Using an Internet E-Commerce solution for the direct order process would make sense. This would require the following technologies:

While the above solution would be great for the direct order part of the strategy, what about the existing retailers? Many businesses today would incorporate the retailers into the consumer based solution without much thought of the service these clients expect. Most business would say it is a value-added service they are providing to the retailer. However, when we look at the existing business processes, companies are commonly using some of the following technologies to service orders from retail customers:

  1. EDI
  2. Call Centres
  3. Direct sales representatives

The reality is that retail customers, in this case, would be small in number, but large in value, the same quality of service, including information access, will not work for both consumers and customers. As a business, you cannot control the quality of service that these customers are going to receive via the Internet. The Internet is a publicly shared network, and a user cannot control the traffic on the backbone. This quality of service trade-off is worthwhile when reaching millions of consumers cost effectively, but is generally not acceptable when servicing potentially multi million dollar customers that need on-line access to your enterprise data. The number one issue with the Internet is response Ė with security concerns a close second.

Alternatively, providing an Intranet-based solution to that small group of clearly defined customers by using a private network connection and the same browser-based application that is used to service consumers may securely solve response and quality of service issues. There are many options for cost effectively providing an on-line connection, including a direct dial connection to your own distributed Points-of-Presence that may be serviced by a Frame Relay backbone. What ever the technology, you control the quality of access and have an opportunity to improve the overall service of the customer while leveraging Internet based technology investments such as the browser application, Web site and firewall. Further, given that your trade customers will require access to more important information versus consumers, the private backbone adds an additional element of security. If you are getting pressured to develop an Internet strategy, as a next step I would recommend that you do the following:

In the end, the Internet has created the demand for truly open standards from an application perspective to permit anyone, anytime, from anywhere to interact with our organizations. This in itself is very important, but it has also made it a very confusing time. In opening our organizations to the world, there is also a need for IT professionals to directly impact strategies that go far beyond internal process. The most important role we can play is to manage technology, to ensure that the business agenda is placed above the technology. T < G


Note: Any TUG member wishing to submit a question to Sam can e-mail or forward their typewritten material to the TUG office, or to Intesys. We would be pleased to publish your question and Sam's answer in an upcoming issue of the TUG eServer magazine.