A friend of mine is in the recruiting business, and his specialty is software professionals. I’m sure you can imagine how hectic his life is these days. We were having lunch last week, and he was describing the way the market for software professionals is changing. It was only a year ago that SAP and PeopleSoft developers, along with COBOL programmers, were in insatiable demand. But today, he explained, it is demand for "Internet architects" that far exceeds the supply.
The definition of an "Internet architect" is evolving as the Internet and the e-business market evolves. But, two responsibilities of the position are clear. First and foremost, businesses are looking for someone to define business models that can take advantage of the Internet. The business purpose of the Internet is not self-evident, and businesses are finding that there are many different e-business models. Online sales is only one. Internet architects are expected to define the business functions of the Internet on a business-by-business basis.
Businesses see the Internet as a means to fundamentally change the way they do business, especially in their interactions with customers and trading partners. Consequently, they need people who can imagine new ideas for conducting business. They need an architect to creatively define new business models that are enabled by the Internet. Internet architects are being asked to model the business problem first and develop a technology solution second.
Most large manufacturers produce a variety of products and, in many cases, each of these products are thought of as different "lines of business." It is not unusual for each line of business to have its own support structure such as marketing, sales, distribution and, often, production. In many ways these different lines of business are actually different businesses.
In addition to the inefficiencies that different lines of business create, they also minimize sales instead of maximizing them. Because of their separate support structures, each line of business usually presents itself to the customer independently. Internet architects are creating a new business model called a "single face to the customer" to solve this problem.
For example, a consumer products company that manufacturers soft drinks, snack foods and paper products will have a different sales process for each of these lines of business. With a Single Face to The Customer model they can present all of their products in a comprehensive offering. They can cross-sell products to maximize sales and still maintain independent support structures if necessary. The Internet enables a Single Face to The Customer because an enterprise-wide Web site can be used to manage all communications with customers while routing orders and other customer requests to the appropriate line of business.
Another new business model being created by Internet architects, opposite of single face to the customer, is multiformat retailing, which allows retailers to segment presentations to different demographic markets while minimizing their support infrastructure. In this case, the Internet provides multiple Web sites, each customized to the particular needs of a demographic group, but routes customer requests to a common support infrastructure. Each of these business models are enabled by the Internet, but it takes an Internet architect to apply the capabilities of the technology to the business problem.
The second responsibility of the Internet architect is to describe and communicate new business models in a way that allows them to be developed, implemented and maintained. This means that the Internet architect must speak a language that is understood by all of the people involved in the development, implementation and maintenance of the business model. These include people from sales, manufacturing, product development, distribution accounting and information technology. In addition, because the Internet extends the business beyond an internal organization, the Internet architect must communicate with customers and trading partners as well.
The Internet architect is more of a management position than it is a technical one. While there are certain technical aspects of the job, the most important aspect is the ability to create an architecture that provides different groups across a business with a common understanding of the new business model but also allows the business model to be constructed. The job of the Internet architect is not unlike that of a brick-and-mortar architect in this regard. Both architects use models to enable communication. These models describe the function and form of what needs to be built, but with enough rigor to be used as a construction specification. To achieve this communication responsibility, both types of architects spend most of their time overseeing the development of models.
Developing a model to enable the construction of a software system for the Internet is as essential as having a blueprint for a large building. Rigorous models are essential for communication among project teams and to assure architectural soundness. There are additional factors for a project’s success, but having a rigorous modeling language is an essential one. The unified modeling language (UML) is becoming widely accepted by all types of organizations in response to this need. It has also been adopted by the Object Management Group (OMG) as the official language for modeling and specifying object oriented systems.
UML was developed by Rational Software and its partners. It is the successor to the modeling languages found in Booch, OOSE/Jacobson, OMT and other methods. Many software companies are incorporating UML as a standard into their development process and products which cover disciplines such as business modeling, requirements management, analysis and design, programming and testing. There are a number of architectural tools that use UML. The most popular is, of course, Rational Rose, produced by Rational Software. Others include products from Popkin Software and Visio. UML has also been adopted by Sun, IBM, Novell and Oracle to certify Internet architects and developers in their Certificate for Enterprise Developers.
The UML provides Internet architects with a vocabulary that includes things, relationships and diagrams: things include structural, behavioral, grouping and annotational; relationships include dependencies, associations and generalizations; and diagrams include use of case, class, object, sequence, collaboration, statechart, activity, component and deployment. It is up to the Internet architect to decide what things and relationships make up the Internet architecture that represents the business model he is attempting to communicate, then incorporating these things and relationships into the appropriate diagrams. Selecting the "right" diagrams to communicate the new business model can be one of the most important decisions made by the Internet architect.
The application of the Internet to business problems is in an early state of development. As the Internet matures, Internet architects will mature in the their ability to apply it to business problems, but creating new business models and communicating them will always be essential responsibilities of the Internet architect. These responsibilities are directly related to the competitive and organizational aspects of business and establish the position of Internet architect at the center of this emerging new world of e-business.
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