This is what an enterprise really is: a "living" company, a corporate entity with component divisions all feed into one another, not by way of policies and procedures, but with real, physical connections and constraint and enabling provided by adaptive processes and process-driven IT resources.
Your company is no longer a clunky robot in a pre-defined, well-mapped room. You're a lithe and alert mammal roaming a rich and changing landscape, surviving and thriving. If you are a maker of things, this means you make those things more economically and distribute them more efficiently. If you are a provider of services, it means those services are increasingly effective and rendered at lower cost. If you are a facilitator, it means you play your role in a larger operation with greater responsiveness and increased flexibility.
As the saying goes, it's not how much you have, it's what you do with it.
The days of leveraging your uniqueness in the marketplace by way of your assets are over. The Internet economy is more egalitarian than any marketplace has ever been. No more "We're better than our competition because of our superior technology," or "We're better because we have data (information) that our competitors don't have."
In a world where information is more available than ever (and increasingly fleeting) it's no longer about keeping the mission-critical information to yourself, or playing off proprietary information strategically, it's about using all the information available to you more wisely than anyone else.
But the enterprise transition doesn't stop there. It's important to note it doesn't terminate at your company's functional boundaries. Like any other living thing, it is part of an ecosystem, dependent upon other living things. How a company interacts with partner companies is at least as important as how it reacts to competitors. Cooperation is often survival-critical in natural ecosystems, and it is increasingly so in the emerging global economy.
What good is all the increased efficiency, dynamic response, process discipline and adaptation to the marketplace if it doesn't extend from your company to your partners? The long-term survivors in the wilderness are those that work together. If you make your company, faster, more responsive and adaptable, but you don't put this efficiency to work in your partner relationships, you'll be constrained by their limitations.
The Internet is the "Great Enabler," and the enterprise concept is what it enables. There is now technology available to companies of every size that permits them to leverage the Internet for enterprise-level integration with their partner companies' systems.
Don't be fooled into thinking that this is not an essential step in the enterprise transition. Your efforts to bring your company to life within its walls is a halfway measure if the benefits do not extend into the collective response to the marketplace that you can only achieve with the cooperation of your partner companies.
The Internet can get you there. Budget for process logic implementation between companies. Use the Internet to tie your IT systems to theirs, in an enterprise integration architecture. Be willing to pay the bills if your partner companies are smaller and have fewer resources; you'll get it all back many times over.
Before you take the enterprise plunge, there is one final point that must be made. You don't necessarily need premium ERP software replacement to make the transition. Nor do you necessarily need an army of high-priced consultants to lead you through the darkness. Your enterprise transition will be far more effective if it is about your own new, unique vision, driven by the concepts put forth above.
It's not about how much you spend or how much software you replace. It's about taking the operational philosophy and concepts that you believe in and desire to realize, and building them into growing, changing IT systems that compliment your human resources, rather than enslaving them.
You can do this with technology that can be obtained very inexpensively, and you can leverage your own in-house expertise and creativity to guide you, using only those outside services that you truly need.
Scott Robinson is an enterprise software and systems consultant with Quantumetrics, Inc., a consultant's collaborative. Robinson has worked with such well known organizations as the Dept. of Defense (DOD), Dept. of Energy (DOE), Wal-Mart, and Roche Pharmaceuticals. He is also a regular contributor to TechRepublic and can be reached at (812) 989-8173, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.