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Faster, Cheaper, Smarter

Faster, Cheaper, Smarter

We've all seen the headlines and understand the recent downturn of the economy and of business in general, but what we in the technology community continue to struggle with is hearing the omnipresent mantra of "faster, better, and cheaper." Demonstrating increased value within these constraints becomes one of the key drivers for all types of technology projects - from day-to-day software maintenance activities to delivery of that one Web-enabled function that will placate corporate business owners until the next "must have" wave of technology emerges.

Within the retail or business-to-consumer community, new business models incorporating the Internet have evolved so quickly that most organizations have worked endlessly and invested large sums of money to keep up with the demands of business owners and consumers. Every business had to have a Web presence just to stay competitive. In reaction to this environment, executive management was forced to review numerous business plans that determined the Internet strategy of the company and approve funding for Web-based technology projects where the break-even point was often five years or longer. In some cases, there was no break-even; however, companies were required to invest in these projects to maintain both brand recognition and, ultimately, market share.

These new Internet business models have also had an intriguing effect on many technical staffs. Not only did the skills required expand but the very look and feel of Information Technology (IT) departments changed. We find ourselves doing battle daily to retain the highly skilled associates in whom we invested heavily. We also had to spend time and money attracting associates who had skill sets based around the new economy that was developing. This new economy did not require one or two new skills; it required a level of knowledge and sophistication unseen in the technology community. Suddenly, we were faced with the complexities of the Web layer, application layer, data layer, virtual private networks, 24/7 operations, worldwide audiences, security, and those outsiders who wanted nothing more than to hack their way into your systems. The challenges have been difficult, costly, time-consuming, and sometimes not fully understood, yet they continue to evolve at breakneck speed.

These statements are not necessarily news to anyone at this point, but the downturned economy and current market conditions have changed the way we think about our businesses. We must reflect on how to stay competitive, how to retain our highly skilled associates, how to increase market share, and how to maintain brand recognition within the confines of stunted revenue growth and extreme cost pressures.

We are now seeing investments in technology projects being more closely scrutinized; departmental head counts are remaining static or being reduced, and the costs of materials continue to rise. As a result, each dollar spent carries a greater weight than it did three to five years ago. We see companies slowing down the pace of technology changes by stepping back and evaluating each change for its viability and value to the organization based on its likely return on investment. While there has been a slowdown in overall spending for technology projects, funding has not stopped - it is just being analyzed and reviewed in a more diligent manner.

Evidence of this smarter spending is demonstrated by the manner in which companies are aligning themselves with selected technology partners. A recent article from the Reuters News Service, on a study conducted by International Data Corporation (IDC), states that there are early signs of a trend in which application software buyers stay loyal to firms who have supplied them with other technologies. The article stresses that this is especially true in the application server market, where people who previously purchased from IBM are electing to use WebSphere.

In the retail industry, WebSphere has been implemented by many national and international chains, and not just for the business-to-consumer segment of the business. WebSphere Application Server offers options that allow businesses to maximize control over their infrastructure by enabling them to choose how they respond to the changing marketplace. The specific demands of the retail industry require scalability to meet the changing workload and market requirements while also handling the large number of product categories, combinations, and options offered. Exceeding these demands is key in driving the retail business. Whether the client is a large international book and music retailer or a nationally recognized major department store, WebSphere Application Server provides the power and flexibility needed.

As I said earlier, other challenges faced by Information Technology departments include ways to improve efficiency and to obtain faster turnaround on critical technology projects. WebSphere provides a flexible software infrastructure that enables the development of applications on open industry standards within multivendor environments. WebSphere provides high performance, scalability, and security to maximize application integrity so customers can access a firm's Web site and complete transactions quickly and securely - this is why they return over and over again.

The bottom line is that as companies continue to make smarter technology decisions and align themselves with strategic technology partners, software selection and vendor support are of paramount importance. Price protection coupled with evolving and robust functionality is expected. This continues to be the sweet spot for IBM and WebSphere in the model of "faster, better, and cheaper."

More Stories By Bob Gault

Bob Gault is vice president, Distribution Industry,
for IBM Global Services in the Americas. He is part of a team dedicated
to the needs of customers in retail and wholesale distribution,
consumer packaged goods, and computer services industries.
His primary focus is strategic outsourcing. A graduate of
Cornell University with a degree in industrial engineering
and computer science, Bob is also a former U.S. Naval Officer.

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