Start on the web and leapfrog the competition

Posted: 4/24/2008 2:02:00 AM
Small organizations are at a particular technical advantage today because they can start out the right way -- on the web.
A few years ago, Asia went wireless and leapfrogged the western world. Wireless communication is cheap compared to wires. Western countries invested billions building out copper and fiber networks to connect people, so convincing boards to spend billions more building towers wasn't an easy sell.

The same holds true in corporate IT departments. Many of them have expensive legacy systems in place costing obscene amounts of money in support and maintenance. Getting information out of them and onto the web could cost millions, so these big ships keep moving forward, slowly. End users get frustrated with the old systems. Information gets trapped in huge silos. Many of them are doing the best they can, but change is difficult and expensive.

Enter the web. Now it's cheap and easy to get information into computers, automate workflows, build reports, integrate disparate systems and get the entire company on the same web page. Companies that start on the web are at a particular advantage compared to their less nimble foes. Employees are happier because they can work anywhere -- from home, the coffee shop down the street, even at airports and on the plane. We are more productive and can make better decisions because we have access to more of our information in one place instead of tracking it down in multiple databases, legacy systems, thick client server apps and the like.

With the rise of Cloud Computing Services like Mosso and web databases like Qrimp companies don't have to invest heavily in infrastructure. Some companies still have fears of security with information being outside the firewall, but in many cases, it's actually more secure, because the data is replicated across many servers with vigorous backups, and the networks are protected with physical and virtual security measures to keep the bad guys out. Small businesses with servers in the office might have great firewalls, but what if someone breaks into the office?

And what if someone steals a laptop? If data is in a web application on a server thousands of miles away, there's less to worry about when the thief opens up that computer to find nothing but a web browser. Stories like this one about a laptop with over 1,000 Social Security numbers on it or this theft that may cost Tennessee $1 Million. Some thieves just smashed a window, grabbed what they could and took off. That's less likely to happen at a robust data center with biometric security at every entry point.

So now that the information is better protected, there are two ways having the data available on the web improves the organization. First, it improves visibility within the company. If all the company's information is on the web, it's really easy to build a web service to aggregate that information all the way up to the CEO. User interfaces can be tailored to specific departments so the end user can focus on their data entry and analysis without locking that information up in a silo. Each employee sees exactly what that employee needs to see. As information flows up the chain, it's summarized. Sales Reps see details for each customer, but the VP only wants to see how much revenue was generated for each region. In some companies, each region is on their own system, so getting that data into one report is difficult. With tools like Qrimp it's super easy.

The next benefit of the web, is that it facilitates communication with customers and suppliers outside the company. If your data is locked up behind a firewall, how do you let your customers know about price changes? Catalogs? Phone Calls? Those methods are expensive and time consuming. Websites are relatively cheap and constantly updated to reflect the current prices. The web enables extranets where you and your suppliers can communicate and stay up to date on important projects. The web also enables asynchronous communication so people can work and respond when it is convenient. Phone calls are comparatively expensive and time consuming, because you have to get two people on the line at the same time.

These kinds of benefits are going to be realized by web-enabled companies immediately while the large legacy companies are spending a lot of money to catch up or keep their old systems running. I think in the future we are going to see smaller companies operating more efficiently and effectively, taking business and employees away from larger institutions. The big companies are going to continue doing things the old way, the expensive and time consuming way and get leapfrogged like Asia leapfrogged the west.