In my first piece, I mentioned that my future columns would discuss how the reliability and marketability of technology is enabling e-business. The reason? People who make their livelihood with technology are fundamentally concerned about these two things:
· Reliability The technology they use will perform in a way that is reasonably consistent with the way the manufacturer promised it would. This includes both the functionality and extensibility of the technology.
· Marketability There are real customers who are willing and able to pay a reasonable price for the technology. It is equally important that this group of customers is likely to grow over time.
So, what do reliability and marketability have to do with e-business?
Without reliability and marketability, it is unlikely that e-business will advance through a traditional life cycle.
The technology of e-business is moving along its own S curve, propelled by its own turbine wheels. The key to knowing about the reliability and marketability of e-business technology is understanding its turbine wheels and, in particular, its architecture and use.
Gordon Bell, the chief scientist at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) for 25 years and currently serving in a similar role at Microsoft, has developed what he calls the "turbine wheel of technology." The turbine wheel is a continuous improvement process that propels a technology along its S curve. The turbine wheel describes the activities that feed each other and allow a technology to travel from inception to general use. Bell’s Turbine Wheel includes the six activities included in Figure 1:
- Architecture, design and manufacturing
- Sell and build in high volume
- Evaluate and understand
- New needs stimulate new uses
- Fabrication technology
Technology life cycles allow technologists to forecast where technology is headed so they can plan for the future. S curves describe the stages of a technology from inception through growth and on to maturity. S curves are helpful to investors and technologists, but they are even more helpful when they describe how the technology is being used. S curves are enhanced when they describe in detail the conventional use of the technology as it proceeds through the maturity stage.
The reliability and marketability of middleware is increasing daily driven not so much by basic research and development, but more by the basic need to stay in line with the demands of one of the most robust markets in history: the Internet.
The widespread use of the Internet is forcing businesses to reorient the architecture of their information technology from inside the business to outside the business. Twelve months ago, many organizations were grappling with ERP implementations, and this was driving the middleware market. The typical scenario was that a client was six months into their ERP implementation and way behind schedule. Quite often, one of the key issues they encountered was integration. They found this was very labor-intensive and often caused further delays and changes. This pointed out the wisdom of having some kind of integration infrastructure that created and maintained the interfaces between different systems.
A year ago it was unusual to discuss integration in the context of the Internet; but now technologists regularly ask how to position middleware and Web technologies, such as application servers, relative to one another. Clients want to better understand when they should use one or the other, or both, and how they would use them together. Middleware technology is maturing because of the need to use it to integrate the Internet with transaction processing systems.
The classic example is that a company has deployed a first-generation, e-commerce retail Web site using a package like BroadVision, which does a great job of creating the storefront, product catalog and shopping basket functions. However, this site needs to be integrated with the back-end systems using a more flexible integration infrastructure rather than hard-coded or paper-based links. This site could use traditional middleware technology. However, most e-business activity is not business-to-consumer but rather business-to-business. In this type of situation, operational systems of different corporations must be linked together, creating a whole new dynamic which allows for XML integration with application servers and Java becoming more and more important.
Bell’s turbine wheel of technology is propelling middleware technology along its S-curve and providing the resources required to continuously improve the products of almost all vendors. While there are many uncertainties in the technology market place, making a livelihood integrating the Internet with transaction processing systems with middleware should not be one of them.
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