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Timely Response

With the average organisation having in excess of three dozen IT applications needing to be integrated, which together consume approximately one-third of the organisation's IT budget, anything that can help to bring costs down is desirable.

Real time, right time, whatever you want to call it, dozens of vendors are lining up to give your company information "at the moment you need it". Is it just more hype or does real time wait for no organisation?

Of all the treacherous adages that have imperilled human beings over the centuries, "What you don't know can't hurt you" just about has to take the cake. In business - as the whole business world must be aware - ignorance is not bliss, and what you do not know can actually cut you to the quick. Under the real-time demands of today's economy, many companies are recognising the only sensible way to compete is to ensure all potentially useful information is monitored in real time and distributed to interested parties the instant it is produced.

Neither radically innovative nor groundbreaking but decidedly challenging, the real-time enterprise (RTE) promises staggering efficiencies and high levels of service. And according to Barton Goldenberg, president and founder of the US-based CRM and RTE strategic advisory firm ISM Incorporated, and co-founder of the RTE Conference series, on the structural efficiency side, RTEs can expect to achieve sustainable, competitive leadership. Indeed when properly implemented, Goldenberg told the recent DCI Enterprise Analytics and Data Warehousing conference in Chicago, it is not unusual for RTEs to achieve oligopoly or even monopoly positioning within their industry.

Take Cleveland-based KeyCorp, one of the US's largest bank-based financial services companies with assets of approximately $US84 billion. Goldenberg told CIO in an e-mail interview RTE has helped KeyCorp achieve its strategic direction of offering integrated financial services nationwide and enabling customers to have all financial service needs fulfilled in real time. In fact the RTE has enabled KeyCorp to provide new bank products and functionality 12 to 18 months sooner than most peers, and to achieve higher Internet banking penetration into retail banking clients than its peers, giving it a sustainable, competitive leadership position.

"By the end of this decade, the majority, if not all organisations, will be RTEs because of the powerful value proposition that comes along with being an RTE," Goldenberg says. "This includes both execution efficiencies - such as reduced costs, operational excellence, enhanced productivity, better decision making and customer delight or loyalty - as well as structural efficiencies - such as sustainable, competitive leadership. If CIOs are concerned about helping their company to remain competitive and to stay alive, then they should already be actively investigating the RTE model. Companies that work in real time have a distinctive and measurable market advantage."

Almost all companies operate partly in real time, Goldenberg says, but few large organisations are operating in real time, all the time. The approximately 50 to 100 RTEs currently in existence include such prominent names as Amazon, Best Buy, Cisco, DaimlerChrysler, Dell, deNovis, eBay, FedEx, GE, GM Trucks, KeyCorp, Morgan Stanley, Motorola, NSA, PJM, The Limited, Tyco, UPS, US Steel and Wal-Mart Nerve Centre.

Slow Advance

In Australia, Gartner research director business applications Kristian Steenstrup says organisations are only creeping towards RTE, doing the work in a fragmented fashion because they are looking at real-time connectivity for individual transactions rather than adopting a holistic real-time approach. "I think they're still falling short of what the ultimate goal could be or should be," he says.

The barriers are twofold: organisational and technological. Steenstrup says without the incentive of "manic competitiveness", which is rampant in the US, Australian organisations have less incentive to introduce these types of business improvements and are less likely to recognise the value-add that exists. And he says although companies are capable of delivering greater customer satisfaction via an RTE, it is only worth doing if it stands to make the company more money.

Steenstrup expects RTE to gradually build for two reasons. Number one, the technology will become more accessible, cheaper, easier to use and more ubiquitous, so that the organisations will have a lower threshold of interest to implement it. "So [for ROI], the 'I' will get smaller and the 'R' will get bigger," he says. "The other thing that will happen is that the 'R' in the ROI will increase because as other companies step along this road, the competitive energy within an industry sector will build up. That competitiveness, which will influence customer loyalty, will prompt you to undertake the 'e' in e-CRM."

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