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Issue of January 2004 
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Cover Story: Enterprise Applications

Towards the extended enterprise

In 2004 enterprises will leverage technologies such as SMS, XML, chat and Web-enablement, to foster a collaborative work environment with mobile employees, customers, suppliers and other partners.

Brian Pereira

Until a year ago, whenever anyone spoke about Enterprise Applications, one usually meant CRM, ERP, SCM or some other vertical application. But organizations that have already 'been there' and 'done that' want to take this a step further. In 2004, the emphasis will be on a collaborative work environment involving business associates and employees who are beyond the boundaries of the enterprise.

Pranav Kumar, Research Director, Asia Pacific, Enterprise Application Software, Gartner, said, "Those who have deployed applications are considering enhancements that address the mobile work force--to provide system access from various places. Others are looking at collaboration across the value chain, with partners and suppliers. This will enable them to share certain information (like production schedules, planning & forecasting info) with suppliers and other business partners."

Sanjay Govil, Director & CIO, Eicher Group said, "Enterprise Automation will move out of the enterprise into the domain of partners outside the organization. Traditional Enterprise Applications like SCM, CRM, and ERP will be Web-enabled thereby allowing people to work in a more collaborative manner."

At a higher level, enterprises are also integrating its systems with those of its business partners. This will give both parties direct access to systems and facilitate quicker transaction data exchange.

These predictions are closer to reality, for Indian enterprises are now conducting pilot trials for enhancements made to its enterprise applications. Let's review some examples.

The Birla Sun Life Distribution Company is already using SMS and has Web-enabled its applications. The Company is using Web-enabled applications for tracking investments on a daily basis, and to analyze market movements and returns. It's using SMS for updating summaries.

SRL Ranbaxy, Asia's largest clinical testing lab, has done backward and forward integration of its ERP. By forward integration, they mean Web-enabling the application to enable its patients, doctors, and sales force to access the system through a browser interface.

The Eicher Group has already integrated its ERP with its business partners using XML. Its dealers, suppliers and distributors can now access its systems via the Net. It is also moving into CRM and further integrating the supply chain.

Things to come

It seems that familiar mantra of 'do more with less' is possible through the use of the latest technologies. Costs may be the impeding factor here, but many enterprises are willing to take the plunge knowing business benefits will come immediately.

Take SRL Ranbaxy labs for instance. It has invested in 'virtual chat' technology and is seriously considering replacing its bar code system with hi-tech RFID tags.

"We are seriously thinking about replacing bar code with RFID. The technology is expensive so we will introduce it for clinical trials, and later extend it to other areas," said G. Radhakrishnan Pillai, Head-Information Technology, SRL Ranbaxy.

Presently, samples collected through sales offices and collection centers around the country are bar coded. Once the samples arrive at the lab, the bar codes are read and new bar code strips are attached. This helps in tracking the movement of the sample through the lab.

Soon, collected samples will have RFID tags with patient records on the chip. "This will help in logistics and distribution, and also in the test processes," informs Pillai.

With RFID all the requisite information for performing the analysis will be stored on the chip attached to the sample. This will eliminate manual data entry and save time in transmitting information between systems during the test processes.

Each RFID chip currently costs Rs 25 - 30. But with wider adoption, the cost is expected to decrease in 2 - 3 year's time.

SRL Ranbaxy is also testing a Virtual Chat system for use between its lab, sales offices and Customer Care Group (a call center).

"When the lab releases a test report, the doctor may not be able to interpret it, especially if it is a new research area of medicine. So they may need to discuss this with us, and thus we have developed a text-based chatting system that is linked with the core application," said Pillai.

Executives at its Customer Care Group can also chat with personnel at the lab to discuss technical matters.

SRL Ranbaxy is also integrating the tracking system of its logistics partner with its own systems. This will enable it to have immediate information about the movement of samples and reports, at the international level.

The Wireless Way

Enterprises that unsuccessfully attempted using WAP on mobile phones, are now turning to SMS and other wireless technologies. It seems Sales Force Automation can benefit the most from wireless technologies, but many business transactions could be done through mobile phones in the next few years.

"There is no doubt that Sales Force Automation (SFA) is going the wireless way," said B. G. Srinivas, Associate VP & Head, Enterprise Solutions, Infosys. "SFA applications are a niche area but needs to be tied in seamlessly with an organizations' CRM, SCM and Financial applications. The sales force needs to make informed decisions and must have a single view of the organization at all times. This is a package that will reach perfection by the end of 2004. The new SFA solution will be function rich and will be the lifeline for any organization's sales operations."

Indian enterprises have long acknowledged this and have already initiated projects in this area.

Sony Music for instance, is planning to capture orders for its 20,000 plus product catalog through SMS in six month's time.

"At present its sales force has to return to the office and log distributor orders into the system. So a certain amount of time is lost and there is a risk of losing the order," said Ishwar Jha, Senior Manager-IT, Sony Music.

SRL Ranbaxy plans to use SMS for feeding information to both patients and doctors. Presently, patients are informed about the schedule for their next check-up or test via e-mail. But this could be done more effectively through SMS.

"Doctors need information more quickly. We will be able to send them test results for a particular patient via SMS, so that they may act more quickly," said Pillai.

SMS and MMS would primarily be delivery mechanisms for information.

Kalyan Kumar, Technical Marketing Manager, Converged Networks Business Unit, HCL Comnet, sees location based services integrating with SMS & MMS as the “next big thing.”

"I personally believe that after e-mail, mobility is the next killer application. I see a trend of SIP (Session Initiated Protocol) based devices being used along with the mobile networks to provide location based information," said Kumar.

If Kumar's prediction comes true, many business transactions would be done through mobile phones.

Forthcoming Trends

In general, Indian enterprises are looking to make its systems more proactive. That means applications will continuously monitor data, and proactively alert or advise users on important business moves.

"In the next few years I foresee developments to enable the Real Time Enterprise. Applications will move from passive mode to a more active mode. Multiple components will enable this along with triggers like network agents," said Sanjay Govil of the Eicher Group.

Gartner analyst Pranav Kumar couldn't agree more. "At an international level, there is a move towards SODA (Service Oriented Development Architecture) and Web services, which together will deliver the next generation of applications, also called 'smart enterprise suites'. They will also drive enterprises' march towards a Real Time Enterprise, which has minimum practicable (not minimum possible) latency," he said.

The other major focus area will be simplification and optimization of the supply chain.

Businesses are also looking at ways to improve information exchange with partners. XML and its derivatives will be the integration tool or the mechanism for sharing information. For instance, financial companies are adopting XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language).

XBRL is an XML-based standard for identifying and better communicating the complex financial information in corporate business reports. XBRL makes the analysis and exchange of corporate financial information easier and more reliable.

We can expect something similar for Automobiles and other industries.

Enterprises are not going to replace its legacy applications in the near future. Rather, they will exploit tools and mechanisms like XML for enhancing existing applications.

Enterprise Application Integration will also happen at the middleware level. Applications will communicate with each other in real-time, and without user intervention. All this will foster a more collaborative work environment between businesses, partners, customers and employees.

Another trend happening around the world is that enterprises are trying to make optimum use of infrastructure that's already deployed--rather than invest in new technology. Hence the 'do more with less' mantra will also be chanted in Indian enterprises in 2004.

Brian Pereira can be reached at brianp@networkmagazineindia.com

Solution Provider Perspectives
Here's what a few vendors and service providers have to say about Enterprise Application trends in Indian Enterprises in 2004.

Srikant S Rao, Country Manager-India, BEA Systems
"What we'll probably see in 2004 is increased but smarter IT investing by enterprises clued into the benefits of enterprise portals, Web services, service-oriented architectures, component-based development, business integration and Linux computing--all of which offer high value at comfortable cost structures."

Kalyan Kumar, Technical Marketing Manager, Converged Networks Business Unit, HCL Comnet
“Sales Force Automation (SFA) is going to undergo a major transformation with enterprises working hard on devising and improving its Customer Interaction Management Strategy. SFA tools are today being used more as a contact management/productivity tracker tool. But SFA will be transformed into a sales enabler, giving the sales force quick access to relevant information for enhancing their sales calls.”

B.G. Srinivas, Associate VP & Head-Enterprise Solutions, Infosys
“Business Process Management (BPM) and Web Services will increasingly be linked to enterprise applications. Organizations will benefit immensely with increased employee productivity and revenues.”

Sharad Sanghi, Managing Director, Netmagic Solutions
“With further reduction in SMS rates, 2004 is going to see an increase in the acceptance and recognition of SMS as a valuable Information access and dispersal tool.”

Dr. S R Bhot, Director (Business Operations - eSolutions Group, Rolta India
"Applications like Sales Force Automation give enterprises the ability to implement global e-commerce strategies, allowing their employees the freedom to work anywhere at anytime on any device, regardless of connection or network. This kind of flexibility is crucial to the success of companies in the digital age."

 
     
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