TECH TALK: SME Technology Utility: ebusiness or Out of Business

What is this new way of doing business that we are talking about? It is about centralisation, its about One, its about self-service, its about real-time, its about personalisation. Lets go into each of these areas. All information needs to be centralised. There needs to be a single instance of data, a single database where it all resides. This means a single customer model – One database, One enterprise model. Self-service means allowing employees, customers and suppliers to do their own thing on the Internet – no movement from information from paper to electronic, no re-typing, no calling up someone. It is about visibility of the information to everyone, and therefore getting them to act appropriately in the event of exceptions. All this means that information must be made available in real-time – the Power of Now – across the value chain. It is also about offering a view of the information that is customised to the work that a person is doing via the corporate [or enterprise information] portal.

The Net provides companies and individuals in the company with incredible access to information. Companies need to take that information and use it to remove huge chunks of cost, and build a competitive advantage via the network of relationships they build – again, by making that information visible across to all.

The new way of doing things is also about treating software as a service, a utility. Today, one of the reasons SMEs are not targeted by many companies is because they are hard to reach and hard to support, especially if the software needs to be tailored to their needs. Keeping a single instance of the software is perhaps the only way to cut down dramatically on support costs, and provide ongoing enhancements. But from a vendor perspective, software cannot and should not be customised for each client.

There needs to be a single version of the software live at any instance. Customers will not be doing development on it, they will be using it. Since the software is centralised, so is support. In the words of Larry Elison: Software needs to move from being a parts-and-labour business to one which involves selling a car.

It is easy to talk about readymade solutions. But they have never existed beyond the desktop. On the backend, everything has been customised, except perhaps the operating system and development tools. This is where one has to think very innovatively about the architecture. It also means that while doing so, one does not take a Lowest Common Denominator (and therefore least functionality) approach The focus should be on centralizing complexity and distributing information. And yet, in doing so, the solution needs to be kept simple for the SMEs.

The question to think about is whether software should be standardised or customised? Can one size really fit all? Does software adapt to business processes or vice-versa? My take on this: business processes need to be changed to take into account the existence of the Net, and Internet-centric software. The Internet is a fundamental discontinuity. It is not business as usual, it is not an incremental change. The Net makes possible things which were hitherto impossible. By creating technology silos with implementations and taking months to put together custom solutions, companies cannot realize 10x efficiencies. New processes need to be created which are built around the Net and standardised software: this is the next stage of re-engineering. And perhaps the final.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.