Group identifies IBM user issues

IBM customers are relying more heavily on the Internet but are finding challenges in integrating online capabilities into business processes, according to a report released by Common, a user group that represents more than 23,000 IT professionals using IBM iSeries midrange servers and related products.

The report renews the organization's efforts to identify user issues, says Gary Lagarde, chairman of the Common Top Concerns Committee. The issues are forwarded to IBM for its use in addressing customer needs when building new products and enhancing existing products, Lagarde says.

Lagarde says he wasn't surprised to see "Integration of the Internet into my company's business process" as the top concern in this year's report. It supplanted the last survey's (conducted in 1999) No. 1 concern, "Availability of applications to fulfill business needs," although among companies with more than 1,000 employees that concern remained at the top of the list. Integrating the Internet into business processes ranked second with those larger companies.

"Although I think the majority of our membership had Internet connectivity [in 1999], the integration of their back-end process -- their data -- had not been a requirement," Lagarde says. "Now it is."

He says that a majority of respondents are in the manufacturing, wholesale and distribution industries.

"If you look at the type of businesses processes that are in those areas, whether via supply chain, customer relations or just dealing with basic transaction data, that all needs to get accessed," he says. "You've got salesmen out there who need data. Typically, they would dial in. Now they're using VPNs and companies are pushing data out to them. It's a whole change in the way people are using the data within their companies."

Other top concerns included the availability of applications that fulfill business needs and the ability of staff to acquire and maintain technology skills. Lagarde says part of what's driving those concerns is the fact that IT shops are becoming more heterogeneous, so they need applications that can integrate with different systems.

"They're trying to match applications against what the business requires," he says.

As far as finding technical staff, Lagarde says the challenge seems to be keeping IT staff up to date on the latest technology.

"Especially as you bring your applications and data to the Web, whether it's an Intranet or it's a true e-commerce application, you've got to have the skills," he says. "Finding people is one thing, but making sure they keep up with technology is another."

The survey included responses from 585 IT professionals. According to the survey results, the average respondent was from the U.S., worked in a manufacturing company with fewer than 500 employees and an IT staff of fewer than 10 people.

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