With the hype around the impact of e-business, it is easy to drown in an ocean of acronyms and the greatness of new technologies. How do senior IT strategists determine what new trends to pursue?

In this interview, Jeanne Ross, principal research scientist at the MIT Center for Information Systems Research, offers some simple advice—decide what your core business processes are and use technology to make them succeed.

TechRepublic: How do senior IT strategists sift through the e-business hype?
Ross: The first step is recognizing your core business needs. Many companies just get confused. They read and hear e-business and learn about what another organization is doing and feel compelled to go out and do it, too. If the move isn’t consistent with their core business needs and doesn’t address an immediate need, then they will find themselves distracted by the new technology.

TechRepublic: What are some questions that CIOs can consider to help determine core business needs?
Ross: There are basically three questions:

  • What are we [as a corporation] really all about?
  • What are our core business processes?
  • What is holding up improvement on these processes?

TechRepublic: How do these questions impact technology selection?
Ross: You focus your technology dollar on supporting the way these processes should work. One thing that you notice in companies that address these core issues is noticeable improvement after two years. Other organizations, which are less clear on their core processes, may not be any better after two years because they chose a technology, not a process.
Join industry leaders and Gartner analysts for the Application Integration: Making E-Business Work in the Real World Conference, Nov. 13-15, 2000, in Orlando, FL. Ross is scheduled to speak as part of a keynote presentation titled “The Impact of E-business on IT,” which will cover how IT processes change with e-business.
TechRepublic: Should CIOs feel compelled to predict IT trends?
Ross: They have to be aware of future trends. For example, right now, a senior IT executive would really want to understand emerging mobile technology. Not because they need to do anything immediately, but because they should recognize what these trends could mean to their company. [CIOs] are the ones in their organization who outline the possibilities to other members of senior management.
With wireless, the senior IT strategists would have to outline how this technology would introduce customer and supplier contact points that have never existed before, as well as ensuring that the existing infrastructure could support remote workers.

In today’s IT environment, are the consequences more severe if a CIO fails to adequately address the impact of new technology?
Ross: I don’t think so, because what is really critical now is improving core processes. If you can align your business process and IT infrastructures, then you will be able to incorporate technologies, such as wireless, when there is a need for it. If you have your [business process and IT] infrastructures well aligned, it isn’t critical to be an “early-mover.” In fact, you can learn from the mistakes of the early-movers and, when the time comes, react faster to embrace new technologies because your infrastructures are strong.

TechRepublic: Is there a point at which a company decides that it needs to completely replace its existing IT infrastructure because it can’t support its core business needs?
Ross: I believe that this decision can vary by company. What you saw with the ERP phenomenon was that companies were giving up on their infrastructures. In some cases, it may have been a good idea for companies to tear out their infrastructure because they had let their systems get so far out of control that they needed to start over.
Other companies are looking for the “perfect infrastructure,” where everything works together just how they would like it. But the reality is that this just doesn’t happen. There will always be patches and fixes.
One of the toughest decisions an organization faces is when they are cobbling together pieces of their legacy systems. Eventually, they have to decide if the system is broken and they need to pull it out. It is not an easy decision where you simply calculate ROI. You have to estimate how long it takes pieces to work together. Although, ideally, they would like to avoid removing the entire systems, companies will continue to do so.
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