While collaborative technologies, web services and enterprise portals can help companies pull operational information together quickly, the technologies themselves are useless unless organisations make significant changes to their underlying business processes.
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That was the message from the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo conference in San Diego this week.
Gartner analyst Steve Prentice said building a real-time organisation "is about [enacting] real change."
For many companies, becoming a real-time enterprise will require business leaders to cede control of customer data and other information from their stovepiped business units and share it with other managers and executives.
Technology represents "just 10% of the iceberg", said Professor Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the Center for eBusiness at MIT in Cambridge, Massachussetts. Business processes, staffers and culture make up the other 90% and, he warned, managers "need to think about this and invest in it".
One way to drive cultural changes needed to support the real-time enterprise is by setting clear goals for elapsed time-reduction targets in business processes - and factoring that into bonus incentives for managers, said Gartner analyst Mark Raskino.
Another change companies will have to make is getting real-time operational information to lower-level managers who have to react quickly to business and market conditions, said Michael Schwartz, vice president of corporate sales and marketing at Information Builders, a New York-based software company.
But while senior executives might be gung-ho about getting their hands on fresh operational information, companies will have to tread cautiously in striking a balance between funding these efforts and strained resources.
Merrill Lynch's IT group, for example, is now working on projects aimed at delivering information on risk management and debt-level information to senior management faster, said Stephen Norman, first vice president and chief technology officer.
But the biggest challenge is pulling off real-time projects while continuing to invest in other business initiatives, even as the New York-based firm is being hit by IT budget cuts of 30%, said Norman. "Trying to strike a balance between all of these things is very difficult."
Real-time data demands will also require changes to the way IT departments approach application development and integration and the types of workers needed to support these efforts.
"You must change people, processes and technologies to deliver information faster, cheaper and on time," said Gartner analyst Matt Hotle.
As such, there'll be an increased need for IT architects, project managers and application "assemblers" who work in rapid application development mode to get real-time applications and interfaces built quickly, he added.
To execute these projects quickly and effectively, IT organisations will have to make better use of reusable application components, an area where many companies previously "have fallen flat on their faces", said Hotle largely because historical reuse efforts have often relied on a bulletin-board approach, where a component is developed and added to a repository of other components.
However, there has been little, if any, governance over this approach, and programmers were not pushed to follow the reuse model, said Hotle.
To make the real-time enterprise succeed, said Hotle, IT managers will have to become stricter about enforcing the reuse model. "Programmers will have to follow this or be disciplined, beaten or fired."