Consider a recent marketing leaflet by Intel and its partners targeted at small enterprises. It exhorts small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to buy a PC to increase their business. What are the specifications of the business-performance PC? Here is what the ad says: Intel Pentium 4 Processor 2.4 Ghz, Intel D845 GVAD2 Motherboard, 128 MB DDR RAM, 40 GB HDD, 15-inch colour monitor, ATX Cabinet, Mouse, Keyboard, 52X CD ROM Drive, LAN Card, Windows XP with CD.
Read the ad again and consider how an SME is expected to (a) understand the flurry of acronyms used (b) use the PC for business? In the first case, SMEs are expected to either master a whole new vocabulary (GVAD2, DDR, ATX). In the second case, there are no applications on the PC by itself, Windows XP can do a few things but not enough to make it usable for business out-of-the-box. The result: SMEs get caught in needless decisions comprising technicalities within a computer which are not necessarily germane for its end-use.
The focus instead needs to be on what SMEs can be do with technology, not confusing them with three- and four-letter words they will not even find in a dictionary! This is one of the motivations for putting together a reference architectures for SMEs. It can clearly specify what SMEs need in terms of the hardware, software stack, connectivity solutions and so on. It should be able to bring the discussion to what SMEs want to accomplish, rather than saddling them with expensive solutions that they may not necessarily need (or know what to do with). So, the reference architecture can help simplify the decision-making process for SMEs.
In addition, it can also ease the selling process to SMEs. Vendors can now focus on how they can provide a whole solution, rather than just selling the parts and having the SMEs assemble their own infrastructure. After all, SMEs want to buy the IT-equivalent of cars, and not check off a laundry list of steering wheels, gear boxes, piston rings, tyres, headlights and the like. Vendors should have the responsibility of putting together the complete solution for their SME customers. Having a reference architecture for them to work with makes it easier for them to do the integration.
The reference architecture also makes it better for the component developers. They can decide which layer they want to focus on, and be the best in that particular segment. For example, in software, we have developers trying to build it all by themselves, rather than using existing components and value-adding on or around them. This will make for more comprehensive SME solutions, broadening and deepening the market. Online directories can help assemblers aggregate the right solutions from different markets.
In many ways, the computer industry needs to start becoming like the auto industry in terms of standardisation. Coupled with the commoditisation of technology which can now provide for affordable solutions, business models which provide these solutions with utility-like pay-per-use payment options, modular and expandable platforms and solutions which can be remotely managed, we will have the fundamental building blocks for creating a complete ecosystem of solution providers for SMEs. This is what is needed to open up the global market of over 75 million SMEs, and create a wide variety of entrepreneurial opportunities.
Next Week: SME IT Reference Architectures