Enterprise toolbox: Radical organisational changes bring hurdles

We are moving quickly towards the creation of ‘virtual enterprises' that encompass e-business customers, distributors, suppliers, physically distributed management, and staff, as well as a multitude of intermediate-term interconnected business partnerships.

These dramatic changes will surely cause the market to have its share of hiccups along the way. In addition, we'll need to jump through technical and staffing hurdles to compete in this information revolution.

Today the virtual enterprise is in its infancy. Therefore, I believe it crucial to examine the two key underlying elements - organisation and integration - that will most directly affect your chances of success. Our current organisational structures are rooted in static, military-based concepts that depend on long-standing business partnerships. I've written previously about adopting a more flexible, locationless working model.Internal or external integration has always added complexities for organisations. What is different now is that the amount of integration needed to compete is greater than ever before. In addition, fixed integration with long-standing business partnerships is changing to a more dynamic, project-oriented set of relationships .

EAI (enterprise application integration) products and services have made progress toward easing the complexities of integration. However, these gains have been mainly in the data and application layers of the organisation. Presently, EAI technology is beginning to blend closely with both e-commerce solutions and application server products. Ultimately, I see EAI technology as a middle-tier commodity, not a separate technology.

Next-generation EAI will need to address four things to meet the needs of the virtual enterprise. First, integration needs to be multilayered, including data, application components, user interfaces, and business process integration. EAI vendors have done a good job of supporting data and application integration. And a few are going after business process integration. However, we need greater emphasis on supporting the latter.

Second, the virtual enterprise requires integrations that change dynamically. Integration tools and technology will have to address the need to rapidly reconfigure integration infrastructure. Although many EAI providers claim such dynamic support, a lot of manual configuration is still required.Third, the way in which we manage internal and external integration needs some adjustment. Current approaches to integration place control in the application and data layers. Integration administration needs to move up into the business process layer to reduce complexity and increase manageability.

Finally, most EAI products today are tightly focused on integrating transaction-based systems. This is only part of the equation. Within the context of the virtual enterprise, the decisions you and your business partners make are much more interrelated.The virtual enterprise expands workflow well beyond the corporate walls. This wide-area workflow necessitates integrating both decision support and business intelligence systems. This expanded integration will yield smarter, more flexible strategic planning.

The way we conduct business is undergoing a radical transformation. The winners in the new economy will be those who examine and change organisational structures and approaches to integration.

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