How's The Weather?
Is it time for enterprise? And, more importantly, are you ready for it? The internal and external signs that your company needs to evolve in this direction will be examined in detail in an upcoming article, but here are some key indicators:
Speed and reliability of data have become the critical factors in your company's competitive performance. Good information has always been important, but now your market position and customer relationships hinge on the accuracy and timeliness of your responsiveness, which in turn requires on-demand decision-making based on supporting data of unprecedented reliability.
Employees increasingly require real-time information, where periodic batch systems once sufficed. In the frenetic pace of today's business environment, there is little time for command-chain protocols and hierarchical deliberation. More and more decisions are placed in the hands of your front-line people -- and they need information at their fingertips in order to function well. They can't wait on Wednesday's batch run; they need the information on the screen when they get the call.
Decision support requirements allow less time for deliberation and less room for error. In the past, intuitive management and a play-it-by-ear approach had their place. Today, that's not so much the case, because when a management-level mistake occurs, there is less time to go back and take another stab at it. Now more than ever, you have to guess right the first time.
Communication with your customers and partner companies needs to be multi-modal if you are to survive. Your customers have more and more choices. Why? The internet. Your business partners are forming increasingly intimate alliances, and expect you to commit more deeply (and with greater versatility) to supply chain requirements. Why? The internet. If you aren't exploring extended and distributed applications, you're going to disenchant them all. And you can bet your competitors will be pleased to see you do so.
Departmental boundaries, once functional discriminators, are now barriers to data access. The marketplace moves faster than it ever did. You no longer have time to send your work across the hall. You need to know what the people in accounting know, and you don't have time to ask.
If this sounds like your world, then it's time to consider enterprise -- and that means it's time to look at your database world, and begin to re-imagine it.
The Ties That Bind
Every indicator above points to changes that need to occur in your IT world, and all of those changes -- even the development of an Internet presence -- impacts your company's database configuration and administration. Committing to enterprise means a commitment to re-engineer your company's data storage and access. Here are the main considerations.
Integration: Inter-departmental reporting and decision support require the ability to pull information from multiple databases in a single query. You must design for this, providing well-structured querying and the necessary efficiency tuning and table structures.
Flexibility: Tables will often need to be smaller, more focused, containing less extraneous information -- but must also have versatile indexing and clean, fast query pathways. Set aside adequate time for table re-design.
New data sources: It won't surprise you to learn that a lot of decision support in your rapidly-changing company is coming from data sources beyond your current IT domain. Find out where the data is and find ways to get it into your decision support applications. It will do much to serve your ultimate goal of putting mission-critical information into the right hands in real time. Design your databases is such a way that you can integrate such information with minimal grief.
New data structures: Implementing enterprise may mean moving to an object-oriented application platform, with business object databases. This is a huge transition, as indexing for an object database is worlds different from RDBMS (relational database management systems) indexing. This subject is so important and has such impact that it will be the subject of an article in itself in this series.
Process tracking/analysis: A continuous process evolution is a hallmark of enterprise. Your systems must not only evolve, they must be designed in such a way that they can continue to do so smoothly, year-in-and-year-out. To achieve this, it's important to be able to track the movement of data from database server to application and across company boundaries, etc. You'll need mechanisms to enable this kind of tracking.
User access/security: More users are going to need more ways into your data. You are looking at web servers to interface with the outside world; application servers to accommodate those in-house; and more portals than you ever dreamed of to make the whole mess fly.
Moreover, you are entering into a business environment that will include outsiders needing your core data. This isn't just a matter of establishing tighter security; you must also set up appropriate tables to accommodate your external users, and means by which they can get to the data they need in real time.
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