As the Internet matures, our orientation for time is changing. Until now time has been oriented around the physical world. Our business clocks and calendars have always been defined by the orbits of the Earth and moon, and work has been oriented around clocks and calendars. Hours, days, weeks, months, quarters and years have regulated the way work is organized, but the Internet is changing this orientation and, as a result, the way we build information systems for the Internet is changing.
For members of the Internet, days and calendars are becoming less important, and the appearance of business opportunities, created by participation in the network, is becoming paramount. For these individuals, "Internet time" is becoming more important than traditional time. Internet time is the period between becoming aware of a business opportunity and making the changes required to take advantage of the opportunity. On the Internet, business opportunities come and go irrespective of traditional time. They come and go in Internet time.
Imagine you are piloting an airplane. Keeping the horizon in view is critical to the success of your flight but there is only one horizon. Keeping the horizon in view is equally important when you are piloting the development of an Internet system, but there are at least two horizons to keep in view.
The opportunity horizon is the first horizon. It is the time you have to implement a system to take advantage of a business opportunity. The change horizon is the second horizon. It is the time you have to make the changes required to implement the new system.
Before the Internet, the opportunity horizon was usually farther away than the change horizon. In most cases you could develop a system and make the changes required to implement it before the opportunity was lost. As the Internet matures, however, the opportunity horizon is becoming closer than the change horizon. On the Internet, opportunities are lost because systems cannot be developed and changes cannot be implemented within the opportunity horizon.
The problem all businesses face is not that the change horizon has moved farther away. Most business can still make changes as fast as they always could. The real problem is that the opportunity horizon has moved closer. In fact, as the Internet matures, business opportunities are being created so quickly that there is often more than one opportunity horizon in view before the change horizon. The only way to adapt to these developments is to use a development process that moves the change horizon closer than the opportunity horizon.
Figure 1 is an illustration of a traditional systems development process. It includes six phases that proceed in sequence. The rationale for this sequential process is that user requirements should be understood in the analysis phase. Technical designs and construction of the system proceed only after user requirements are understood. Testing involves fine-tuning the system and implementation is simply a matter of training users and integrating the new system with preexisting systems.
This sequential process worked very well for many years and was much better than those processes that began construction before requirements were understood. However, it assumes that user requirements are relatively stable. This approach works well as long as user requirements remain stable from the time they are defined until the time it takes roll out the new system. In Internet time, however, user requirements do not remain stable for long. As the network expands, user requirements expand, and the Internet is expanding geometrically.
Figure 1: The Structure of a Sequential Development Process
In Internet time, user requirements can change quickly as a new person or device is added to the network. Systems development in Internet time requires an approach that allows changes to be made as quickly as additional people and devices are added to the network.
Figure 2 illustrates a systems development process that is more appropriate for Internet time. This process also has phases (e.g., analysis, design, build, test, etc.), but it attempts to get to the build-and- test phase much quicker than the sequential process. It does this by iterating all phases rapidly and providing feedback after each iteration.
Figure 2: The Structure of an Iterative Development Process
Iterative development is rooted in the ability to jointly manage the evolution of a system and its "use context." Unlike the sequential process, the iterative process assumes that user requirements are only really understood when a user uses the system. It asks users to describe requirements by modifying something instead of describing them in the abstract. Feedback is essential to the iterative process. Without feedback there cannot be a next iteration. Analysis becomes the process of understanding the requirements as feedback on what is good and bad about a system that has been tested by a user.
The systems of most successful Internet businesses have been modified dramatically since their first iteration. For example, Amazon.com, America Online, Dell, Charles Schwab and e-Trade have all gone through significant iterations since they were first introduced. In almost all cases, however, these businesses made a conscious effort to get a system in front of users and iterate through improvements. They moved the change horizon in front of the opportunity horizon and beat their competition to the opportunity.
Iterative systems development is essential to building systems in Internet time, but remember the Internet is growing exponentially. During the last few years we have been in the early stages of the Internet’s life cycle. These stages have been characterized by people joining the network with personal computers. As computing technology matures and devices of all types become more intelligent, the Internet will expand even faster because membership will not be limited to people their appliances will become members as well. This will require iterative development to move to the next stage.
User development or personalization will be essential as the Internet matures. Some companies, such as enCommerce with its Get Access technology and SAP with its mySAP.com technology, are providing technology that allows users to "personalize" or create their own Internet systems. Today, personalized systems are focused on menus that are customized for a particular user and grant access to only that information or service that the user finds appropriate. These personalization systems are just the first step in moving the responsibility for systems development from developers that must analyze user requirements to users that already know their requirements.
Until now a great deal has been written about how the Internet would change our spatial relationships but little about how it is changing our orientation to time. We have all read reports of people working from home or in "officeless" businesses, but little has been written about how we work in an environment that has no sun and moon. A traditional work environment has allowed us to control opportunities based on clocks and calendars. In Internet time, opportunities are controlled by the growth and maturation the of network. Information systems will be available to take advantage of these opportunities or they will not.
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