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Late last year, I heard the CIO of one of the leading packaged-goods companies in the world describe his top objective for 2003 as moving the company from a "batch-processing mind-set" to one of "a real-time business with end-to-end visibility." PeopleSoft began to push the idea of the real-time enterprise. Tibco elevated the promise behind its products and services from the essential but somewhat static value of EAI to the richer and more opportunistic position of helping customers build real-time businesses.
Some of the leading IT consultancies, such as Gartner, began to assemble diverse pieces of their work under a new focal point that they call the real-time enterprise. And last week, Microsoft launched a business unit called the Real Time Collaboration Group. Underscoring the unmistakable shift away from software-centric thinking and toward that of customer value and real-time business, Microsoft placed this new unit under the control of longtime executive Jeff Raikes, whose overall organization is called -- and please note the absence of the word S-O-F-T-W-A-R-E -- Productivity and Business Services.
Now, perhaps all these anecdotes are nothing more than prime examples of marketing crap -- a simple case of where the business-technology world has churned out a buzzword-stuffed pseudoconcept. Maybe we at InformationWeek have been royally duped, and in turn have been spewing a lot of nonsense at you ever since our Sept. 16 issue called out the rise of real-time business, which triggered the extensive coverage we've devoted to the topic since then and that will no doubt continue with great vigor throughout this year, including our Spring Conference in March. Maybe.
But I don't think so. This is very real, and its impacts will be felt by every company in every industry, whether they choose to buy into the idea or not. Because while some that try it will not succeed, those who ignore the reality of real-time business and its ascendancy will face overwhelming competitive pressures and will have next to no chance whatsoever of surviving. In a world where high-value, market-based information is made available almost instantly to the right people inside your company and to customers and suppliers and partners and even customers' customers and suppliers' suppliers -- and where the availability of that information is then, much more importantly, used to make the right decisions -- what chance of survival will there be for a company that keeps doing things the old-fashioned way? What safe competitive haven will exist for a company whose view of the world is shaped not by what's happening today but last month and last quarter? Such backward-looking companies will be, to quote InformationWeek contributing editor and part-time philosopher Lou Bertin, "crushed like a grape under the great steamroller of Progress."
This is not a fad, but it's also far from easy. Businesses willing to make the jump must resist the temptation to lay all of the responsibility on technology vendors: "If I just buy enough stuff from these companies that say their stuff will help me build a real-time business, then I'll have a real-time business." Business-process optimization must be pounded on relentlessly, collaboration must be a highly prized asset and skill, and the focal point of the entire effort must be NOT on the technology itself but rather on ensuring that the project allows you to capture and act upon timely data, information, and ultimately knowledge about your markets, customers, and prospects.
Stock prices and some other financial metrics aside, I think 2003 will be a year of astonishing change, growth, and promise in the business-technology world. The drive for real-time business will dominate the field, and not just philosophically. And the time to act is now.
Editor in Chief