In late September, I spent two days in Melbourne meeting nine senior IS executives across industries ranging from the public sector to finance and manufacturing. Despite the diversity, certain common themes kept cropping up in the discussions.
CIOs are now talking about electronic service delivery rather than e-commerce. The focus with electronic service delivery is on using the Internet to streamline existing processes between both internal and external clients. For the first time in ages, I heard IS executives talking about business process re-engineering and workflow. The perception is that such efficiencies represent significant ROI opportunities.
Another noteworthy trend is the number of CIOs investigating more extensive use of thin-client PCs. Moreover, almost all those interviewed have implemented some PDA pilot projects and believe that PDAs might well replace laptops for most field staff. A number of those interviewed forecast that it's only a matter of time before the regular mobile phone is also a PDA. They believe the more versatile PDA screen opens up the true potential of WAP along with cost savings. CIOs say in the future they see field staff having a PDA-desktop combination with data captured in the PDA downloaded at the end of the work day. Hand-in-glove with this is interest in more advanced communication functionality which supports an itinerant workforce.
The laptop is not the only computer whose future is tenuous. Outside the intense transaction processing environment, the days of the mainframe could well be numbered. Independently, two InTEP members are both actively investigating its long-term viability. The issues for them are cost and inflexibility. Their business users are under increasing competitive pressure and need answers instantaneously, but getting answers out of the traditional data centre architecture, with its layers of support staff and systems developers, is ponderous. They feel their companies need to embrace and adapt to package solutions that are built around modern development environments and use Web functionality.
Shared services also dominated the discussions. Most CIOs envisage this concept as a central group providing IS services - usually on a commercial or chargeback basis - to operating divisions across an organisation. This seems to reflect the ever-increasing search by CIOs for cost-effectiveness in the delivery of IS services. While this model could offer economies of scale, CIOs also believe it allows business users the chance to compare the internal cost of IS with that of an outsourcer. By focusing on specific processes the view is that this would highlight which functions were best outsourced.
My two-day schedule was hectic. By the end of it I felt like an exhausted gelding at the spring carnival races. However, in spotting the themes I was satisfied with the outcome.