a/d trends: Is Your System Ready to Get Naked?

Whether I’m talking to an IT director or layperson, the topic of e-business and the Internet quickly swings around to the security issues. What about all those hackers we hear about? Did you read the story about the 13-year-old kid who cracked into the bank’s computer system and stole the Visa numbers? How did the Russian Mafia intercept wire transmissions? Did you hear about the latest virus that crippled a multinational company’s computer infrastructure?

The tales of breached security abound. It is not surprising, therefore, that these folks don’t have a lot of faith in the future of doing business on the Internet.

But, there are some interesting developments in Internet security that might help change some minds about getting involved in e-business. Technically speaking, the Internet can be as secure as we want it to be. New electronic payment methods, such as SET, are light years more secure than merely phoning 1-800 numbers. Data movement, even via Internet, is not only ironclad encrypted, but also guarantees transaction integrity to the bit.

The next big hurdle for getting into e-business is not only ensuring it is technically secure, but also that it is perceived as being manageable and adhering to time-honored business principles.

In short, it’s got to have RIS (Reliability, Integrity and Serviceability). Usability, for both the company’s employees and its customers, is also critical to the success of e-business.

How many times do you recall calling a 1-800 number and hearing, “Sorry, but our system is down. I’ll just take your information and enter it as soon as it comes back up.” Indicating any kind of delay doesn’t inspire confidence in the company’s ability to deliver the goods.

How many times have you been at the airport and heard: “You wouldn’t believe this but our computer system just went down. We’ll have to do your boarding card manually.” There you are wondering if the plane will get off the ground safely.

How many times have you talked to your supplier and heard: “Don’t hang up – just let me check the warehouse to see if that widget is really there.”

Again, you’re hanging on the phone, wondering who and what you’re dealing with. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s fast-forward to the world of e-business.

Here, a company’s IT systems are directly accessible by the end users. There is no “human middleware” to deal with.

No clerk hides availability problems. No telephone operators say: “Just give me the information and I’ll get back to you.” There’s no polite phone message telling your international clients: “Our business hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and we’re open every second Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 noon.”

Essentially, in this brave new e-world, your computer system is “naked” in front of the customer, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

There is a price to pay if this service is not made available to your clients: you’ll lose transactions and business. If it’s not running, I don’t think “HTTP 1.0 Server not available” will be effective at retaining your order and transaction. If the line drops in the middle of your financial transaction or order, you still want to make sure the whole deal went through, not just the part about stock being withdrawn. If you don’t include transaction management, your business loses its integrity in a very big and global way.

The usability issue is essential when your system is naked.

“You wouldn’t believe this new system there’re making us work with,” your company’s frustrated and confused customer service representative tells the caller. “We don’t even have the training scheduled yet for another two weeks.” The client on the other end of the line may empathize, but will they make your company their first choice next time?

Ever asked for a flight change, only to find you’ve convened a conference of airline employees, each trying to determine which codes and keystrokes to use to get you from A to B. Don’t you walk away from the ticket desk wondering just where in the world you’ll be landing?

At the risk of repeating myself, in the world of e-business, a company’s IT systems are directly accessible by the end users. You can’t force them into training sessions or have them certified to use your applications.

Remember, e-business eliminates “human middleware” and leaves the system naked to the world. Therefore, if your computer system isn’t usable, you’ll find your customers are going elsewhere -- in droves.

The smart application developer knows that tomorrow’s e-business implementation issues are solvable only if they create a system that:

  • implements transaction management and journaling in all interactive applications;
  • implements a hardware infrastructure that incorporates highest reliability;
  • integrates to a systems management process that provides clustering or systems mirroring; and
  • is simple, usable, and will ultimately do exactly what the customer wants.

E-business is all about eliminating the “human middleware.” Your e-business system will lie naked in front of the world for everyone to behold. Not only does it have to look good, it also has to work. The world is watching.

Mark Buchner is president and founder of Astech Solutions Inc. (Aurora, Ontario), which applies technology to the practical needs of the AS/400 market. mbuchner@astech.com