Regular readers of this column will have noticed the emphasis that it places on the Internet as the ideal engine for business in the modern, connected world. While many companies across Europe are already using the Internet to power their businesses, a great many more are still struggling along with outdated client/server models. This column outlines three good reasons for moving away from the client/server model and embracing the Internet at every level in enterprise.
The first drawback of client/server is fragmented data. Data are typically stored departmentally, on servers that are inaccessible to anyone outside of that department. Fragmentation occurs when data about a single item - for example a customer - are gathered and stored by different departments according to their business focus. While Marketing may hold data about a customer that they have targeted in a campaign, Accounts will have information about that customer's payment history, Field Management a record of engineers' visits to the customer and Sales will keep a record of the products the customer has bought. As the data is stored locally in each case, no one within the enterprise can view all the information about that customer in one single history. This often leads to duplication of effort, missed opportunities and the inability to recognise valuable customers and treat them accordingly.
In the Internet model, all data is stored on a central server and is accessible to enterprise applications on a corporate intranet, enabling a single view of any entity - be it a customer, a supplier, a product, an employee or a business group. The efficiency gains arising from this can be enormous.
Client/server models also engender high implementation and maintenance costs. Multiple departmental-level servers require multiple IT support staff to look after them, especially where a company is based in more than one location. By contrast, the Internet model requires a single data centre, which can be managed by a single group of support staff. New software need only be implemented once, from where it is instantly accessible over the corporate intranet, and similarly, any upgrades need only be carried out once. This brings about an immediate and significant reduction in support, training and installation costs.
A third disadvantage with the client/server model is its internal focus. Applications and data are held on closed-loop networks where they can only be accessed by employees, remaining closed to external parties such as suppliers, customers and partners. Making these applications available externally, however, can greatly speed up any number of processes, from customer orders to supply chain management and inventory control.
This can easily be achieved with an Internet model, by linking an e-commerce website straight into internal order-processing and accounts systems, and by hooking up with suppliers and their systems through online industry exchanges. This kind of externally-focused architecture means that transactions can be automated from front to back, eliminating the need to re-key data into relevant systems, and speeding up order processing and fulfilment at every link in the supply chain.
Industry analysts have said that the client/server model is ten times more expensive to maintain than its Internet counterpart. But the benefits are not only derived from cost-efficiency. The model also allows e-businesses to enjoy closer and better relationships with customers and suppliers, improved internal efficiency due to the company-wide availability of data, and greater flexibility and responsiveness thanks to the faster flow of data through every level of business.
This column was prepared by Oracle Corporation. Questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org