Perhaps the concept of a flexible architecture had to wait for the technology to catch up to it. Thanks to new standards and off-the-shelf programs that at least try to coexist with the competition, CIOs can give business units much more latitude than in the past when it comes to choosing networking and operating systems, applications, and communications tools. Where previously every rogue database or niche e-mail system threatened to create another stovepipe, now most programs work together with some fine-tuning (provided, of course, the underlying infrastructure is solid). "Our hottest area of interest right now is application-to-application integration," says Bill Rosser, a vice president and research director at Gartner (US). "We have whole conferences on that topic alone." A higher degree of interoperability means companies don't have to dismantle otherwise acceptable legacy systems to achieve application cohesion. "We have a little bit of everything and there are good reasons we have it, and it all works together," says Roy Swackhamer, CIO at CNF, a holding company headquartered in California. "In today's open, heterogeneous environment, the danger of backing yourself into a corner is minimised."
The emergence of the Web interface lets companies tie applications together at the top rather than having to hard-wire them in underlying layers. For example, Myers Industries has standardised on the Computer Associates' CA Unicenter enterprise-management system and uses that company's Bizworks tool to achieve interoperability at the Web level. "We try to develop as much as possible at that corporate level," says Winer. "The Web allows us to put a layer on top of all our applications and communicate to underlying applications from there."
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