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"The medium to big end of town is not as enamoured of technology of itself as it has been in the past. It is pausing for breath."

With these words Bob Hayward, senior vice president for Gartner in the Asia Pacific, set the tone for the firm's annual Symposium/ITxpo held in Sydney in mid-November. The message would have been no great shock to the 1400 delegates who had gathered to hear the regional and international analyst line-up. With 80 per cent of the audience drawn from the user community, they were aware that the rosy spectacles of the dotcom daze were long discarded.

That is not to say that business managers do not want IT. They do, and in spades. They just want different IT: IT that drives the bottom line, IT that is agile, flexible and efficient, and they want to be in the driver's seat.

"When you nut it all down, they [the businesses] are saying they want to be faster and more nimble and able to react to the market more quickly," Hayward says. And because of the speed of change in the market and the economy, that means that: "IT architectures can't be set in electronic concrete". It presents a new set of challenges for CIOs who not only need to be mindful of what their business masters want, but also what the IT industry can deliver.

In a series of keynote addresses presented during the four-day symposium, Hayward and his colleagues spelled out the key issues they expect to pervade IT roll-outs through the decade. These distil down into three key themes: the delivery of systems to permit real-time enterprises (RTEs) to emerge; identifying and liberating the value from IT investments; and developing information architectures that meet today's requirements while accommodating tomorrow's opportunities.


Let's Get Real-Time

"Corporations need to collapse down-time to react to market opportunities and regulations," Hayward says. "Gartner is building up a large series of case studies of companies that are excelling because they are faster. They are reacting faster, they are having inventory turns faster and they are developing new products faster."

In its October report Time for the Real-Time Enterprise, Gartner says that Ford, for example, saved $US1.2 billion a year and improved responsiveness when it cut product development time from seven to four years. The report also records a major telco increasing productivity by 33 per cent and order volume by 60 per cent when it cut the time to provide IP or broadband services to customers back to 18 days when they had in the past stretched out as long as two months.

"Step back now and look at our globalised and connected economy," says Hayward. "These businesses are saying they need a structure that supports speed and agility." For CIOs, he says the challenge will be to achieve that without throwing out everything that has gone before.

This need for speed and agility is prompting a focus on investments in the integration and communications areas, and underpins trends such as companies establishing Web portals to allow easier access to information by employees, customers and suppliers. "We call it the enterprise nervous system and it's key for the real-time enterprise. The process really is to take the existing assets and make them more efficient," Hayward says.

In line with those sentiments, it's not surprising that Gartner also predicts that by 2003, one in five of the top 2000 companies worldwide will cite the creation of an infrastructure able to support the real-time enterprise as one of their top five investment areas. What is a surprise is that CIOs might find their normally parsimonious CFOs an unlikely ally in this effort. According to Gartner, although the economic downturn has restored a measure of power and control to the CFO, who is only likely to grant funds for projects where tangible measurable results are demonstrable, "the goal of reducing cycle times provides the hard metrics needed. The many data warehouses that contain time-stamped transaction data provide the initial benchmark data that show the need for improvement. They will also be used to track progress."

The bean counters will have something to count.

Gartner's analysts, however, stress that producing IT systems which will support real-time enterprises will not of themselves deliver this new Holy Grail. Business processes and management must also focus on real-time activity so that initiatives which speed up processes online are not then stalled by slow human decision-making processes.

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