According to Greek mythology, Gordius, king of Phrygia, tied up his wagon in an offering to the gods with a knot so intricate that it defied all efforts to untie it. An oracle declared that whoever untied it would rule all of Asia. Many tried, all failed. Alexander the Great took one look at the knot, drew his sword and cut through it with a single stroke. The moral of the story? Complex problems do not always require complex solutions. Sometimes a simple one will do.

All too often, we look at e-business as a complex technology problem that demands a complex engineering solution. Technology “experts” push for a perfect solution when, in reality, a simple one might be better. Rather than “cut the knot,” we struggle to untie it.

The IT industry has made huge strides in addressing the needs of business. We have clearly evolved beyond the ‘80s attitude of “We build it. You use it.” But, a disconnect still exists. What e-business really means is that IT must build business systems that focus on the needs of customers, suppliers, partners, employees and other constituents – recognizing that change is driven by the expectations of these audiences. In the world of “e,” if you don’t meet customer’s needs, your competition most certainly will. The e-business disconnect is that IT is still building solutions that focus on the underlying systems rather than meeting the expectations of customers.

Consider a simple banking example. My co-worker banks with a large national bank. A few days after she makes a substantial deposit, she checks her balance through the bank’s new Internet banking system. It doesn’t show up. She calls the bank; and the customer service rep tells her “No problem – the deposit is here.” A few days later, she has a problem with a creditor and goes looking for a check that should have cleared two or three months ago. To her dismay, the check information available through the Web doesn’t go back that far. You can hear the “#@$!%* incompetent bank” from the other side of the office as she once again dials the customer service phone number.

The bank created its Internet system to improve customer relations, not make them worse. What went wrong? In short, the bank’s IT staff didn’t understand the data requirements of the customers and properly incorporate them into the system.

The “experts” describe an ideal world with server-based, Web-empowered databases. As a result, IT creates this world by copying and synchronizing their operational banking data with a relational database. Now they have data that’s not quite up to date. Then the database gets too big, so they only keep 60 days of data. The system does what the line-of-business people asked it to do – provide 24x7 online accessibility. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t meet the needs of the customers.

After you wade through all the terminology, every e-business implementation rests on three fundamental pillars:

  • Presentation
  • Process
  • Data

If we shortcut any one of these pillars, the entire implementation fails. Unfortunately, while presentation and process strategies have evolved over time from “HTML-it” or “screen-scrape-it” to sophisticated visual design environments and application servers, our data strategies are stuck in archaic, complex data replication models. We continue to expend enormous amounts of effort and energy to untie the knot instead of cutting through it.
We have to start thinking outside the box. We assume Web applications must be driven by modern relational databases. That assumption leads to complex data replication strategies that create opportunities for problems. How much easier the entire implementation would be if the new Web banking systems used the same data as the internal banking applications! The experts would not advocate this type of approach because there is not a lot of money to be made in telling people to reuse and extend what they already have. It’s much easier and a lot more fun to keep adding more and more complexity to the organization.

Instead of complexity, why not just cut through the knot and provide live access to the operational data that runs the business? It’s absolutely possible with the right “sword.” All Alexander did was use the tools at his disposal to execute a simple, yet effective, solution; and they made him King. Now that wouldn’t be a bad position to put your business in, would it?

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