Stories by Derek Slater

Who's hacking your refrigerator?

Now that everything's networked and process control systems are easy to hack, here's a quick-reference guide to figuring out who's behind each type of security incident.

Portal Potential

Exchanges, portals, auction sites--whatever the method, everybody's trying to aggregate supply and demand and operate their supply chains in new and more efficient ways. Office-furniture maker Herman Miller Inc. in Zeeland, Mich., got an early jump start two-and-a-half years ago on the development of a portal that lets suppliers rifle through data from Herman Miller's ERP system.

Midmarket IT Standing in the Middle

Mark Lindquist is president of a small metals fabrication company. Founded in 1926, Rapid-Line has 78 employees and churns out automotive parts and office furniture components in a single 46,000 square-foot facility in Grand Rapids, Mich. How rust belt can you get? Sounds like the kind of shop where IT capabilities might consist of Quickbooks running on a hand-me-down 486.

Fast, Cheap and Under Control

Missed any project deadlines lately? Almost everybody has; after all, 28 percent of all IT projects get killed, and only 26 percent are completed on time and on budget, according to consultancy Standish Group in West Yarmouth, Mass.

Integration: Uncarted Territory

In the best retail stores, service is always available but never intrusive. The signage is clear, the store layout inviting, the Muzak pleasant. And the customer browses uninterrupted--until he has a question. Then--whoosh--the salesclerk appears immediately. May I help you? Will customers accept anything less from online shopping? More and more businesses suffering from the abandoned-shopping-cart problem think not. Many companies--not just retailers--are attempting to replicate online the benefits of live customer support. When customers have questions--click--they connect to live support, using their preferred medium--e-mail, chat session or even a phone conversation with a representative who can push webpages to them.

Interview: Looking Sharp: Kathryn Grant

Consumers won't drop big bucks on pricey gadgets that they can't see first, so at The Sharper Image, even online shoppers get to "experience" the merchandise.

Looking Sharp: Kathryn Grant

Books, movies and CDs--low-cost commodities--are relatively easy to sell online. People don't seem to mind buying them from afar, with only a picture to go by. At the other end of the spectrum, you might find funkier merchandise, unique and somewhat pricey stuff, such as the US$329.95 ionic air purifier purveyed by The Sharper Image (TSI), a San Francisco-based specialty retailer. Products like these can be a tough sell on the Web, partly because of their uniqueness and partly because of their price tags. Before handing over their credit cards, consumers want to inspect these items, pick them up, turn them on, try them out. That's all part of the experience TSI's retail stores have offered for years, and today the company seems to have mastered selling its specialty wares online, too, at www.sharperimage.com. Indeed, TSI's Internet sales increased by 479 percent, to $28.5 million, in its last fiscal year. CIO Executive Editor Derek Slater recently spoke with Kathryn Grant, senior manager of Internet strategy for TSI, about how the company overcomes the "touch issue" when selling online, how it matches its Web efforts with TSI's brand image, and the interplay between the company's online, catalog and store retail channels.

Special Report: Integration Is More than Its Parts

Integration and information go hand in hand. More than ever before, customers are demanding information;about their accounts, their balances, their recent purchases and deposits, their bills, their products--from every branch of your company. They want it over the phone, over the internet or with the help of EDI or XML, and they want it now. Getting that information means accessing data from various systems, and on the CIO's to-do list that means integration. And so CIOs set out to integrate with all due haste; they use Cobol and legacy access tools, they sprinkle in screen scrapers and middleware, and they get the job done.

Middleware Demystified

Confused about middleware? Welcome to the very large club. It's a term that expands and contracts in meaning over time and is used differently by a zillion different people with as many different agendas.

The riddle in the middle

While numbers of e-business initiatives are rapidly growing,
enterprise customers need solutions which integrate all their
disparate data so that it is viewable through a single interface.
Derek Slater attempts to demystify the riddle that is middleware

The Silver Screen's Digital Dreams

Hollywood. People come here from all over the world in search of fame and fortune. Some find both. Most find neither. But scrape off the Tinseltown stardust and there's a plain old biz beneath the show: a film industry that in recent years has experienced both feast and famine. Paramount's 1997 Titanic raked in $600 million at the box office and put director James Cameron on top of the world. In 1998, Universal Studios Inc.'s Babe: Pig in the City took in $18 million, cost a porky $85 million to make and (along with a few other underperforming titles) cost Universal Chairman Casey Silver his job. In Hollywood, the technical term for that kind of ROI is bomb.