E-comm hinges on champion, architect: Gartner

A new role is emerging within companies as they discover the fit of e-commerce with the business and IT infrastructure, according to a Gartner analyst.

Chief architect officer (CAO) is a position that has appeared over the past three years in the US, and is starting to appear locally, said Betsy Burton, Gartner's vice president and research director of technology management.

"The role is also starting to emerge in Australia. In many cases organisations have this role in place, they simply haven't named it."

According to Burton, there are two interesting dimensions of a CAO.

"A CAO is a person, not a task force," Burton said. "It is important for the CAO to have the blessing of senior executives."

The second dimension is that, according to Burton, "it almost doesn't matter if the CAO is right. It's more important that someone is determining the direction of your company." Burton said the Internet has its place in the world, but it is not going to solve a business problem for you.

"There is nothing magical about the Internet that is going to make building applications any easier," she said.

"Everything you had to deal with in building applications previously still applies, you simply have a new medium.

"This is good news in that everything that you know already about building applications now applies to the Internet.

"It's bad news in that nothing is for free." Burton has consulted with Australian organisations to provide them with an integrated perspective on developing and deploying online transaction processing (OLTP).

"Many organisations try to decide on the technology for e-commerce before the business architecture is defined," Burton said.

"I see organisations throwing money away because they believe a piece of software will solve all their problems."

Appointing a CAO is one of the stages Burton has identified that organisations should pursue before selecting an e-commerce platform.

The first step is to ask what problem an organisation is trying to solve. Defining the problem is not a technology issue, according to Burton, but a business one.

"Part of this stage is also making sure you have an executive champion at a senior level to ensure the definition of what the company is trying to achieve receives adequate attention," Burton said.

After problem definition, says Burton, an organisation should distinguish between a tactical or strategic solution.

"A tactical solution has its place in solving an immediate problem," Burton said.

"The disadvantage is that its lifespan is significantly less than a strategic solution. On the other hand, a strategic solution will taken longer to deliver but yield a greater lifespan," she said.

The third stage in implementing an e-commerce strategy is to define the architecture of both the business and technology.

"The technological infrastructure must meet the business requirements," Burton said.

Once the first three stages have been solved, says Burton, the choice of technology or vendors becomes relatively straightforward.

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