Getting on the right platform

Open architecture is increasingly the solution of choice for organisations, but companies should deploy it across the enterprise

Open architecture is increasingly the solution of choice for organisations, but companies should deploy it across the enterprise

Increasing numbers of organisations are making the move to open architectures - solutions based on Internet standards such as Java 2 Enterprise Edition and Microsoft .net. They allow collaboration irrespective of the application, software or hardware and have been accepted by many companies.

This clearly brings to an end the situation of businesses being locked into investing with just one supplier. However, despite the obvious benefits, many businesses are still not reaping the rewards of open architectures.

The problem is that individual open architecture applications are being developed the old-fashioned way, without a real understanding of how to build a solution using this new technology. So different departments within a company deploy solutions that suit specific or individual requirements only, rather than establishing a common and scalable business platform upon which every division in the business can access the tools required.

While existing solutions have a Web front-end and are "open", they are only open in an isolated mode, which costs more to deliver than traditional applications.

The issue is often seated in the disconnection between the IT department and management. Companies should see their IT systems as an important strategic element of the whole business rather than an individual department with its own budget.

Furthermore, businesses should contemplate sharing the costs of a single platform across the separate divisions to allow for a scalable framework from which the organisation can evolve in the future.

The real long-term value of open architectures can be attributed to a couple of unique capabilities they bring to an organisation. First, a business is no longer constrained to one supplier's product suite. The ability to integrate different supplier offerings allows for future- proofed architectures to be built up over time without discarding previous investments.

Second, current frameworks come with a host of subsystems that are generic services which all businesses require from an out-of-the-box solution, such as workflow, personalisation, security, multi-channel presentation and customer relationship management.

The benefits of the huge amounts of investment and research carried out by software providers save businesses having to build them from scratch.

As a result, subsystems can significantly improve the functionality and productivity of an organisation when they are used and shared consistently across applications.

The first step is for IT departments to develop a flexible, corporate and conceptual technology roadmap specifically aimed at open architecture.

Open architectures must conform to some golden rules to avoid rejection by the business as "yet another costly, unworkable IT strategy". These include open standards-based integration approaches that allow package integration, and the use of Web-based interfaces for consistent presentation. Both of these need to be communicated to the business.

Open architecture can no longer be ignored if businesses want to balance current technical frameworks and investments with tactical business pressures.

Imam Hoque is head of technology at e-business consultancy Rubus

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