Enterprise Wide Applications
The sum of all parts
Enterprise-wide applications are moving from being unmanageable
monoliths to clusters of independent modules that interact seamlessly to look
like one application. Deepali Gupta takes a closer peek
|Arindam Bose, Head IT, LG Electronics Private Limited
Everything evolves, and as it does so, the meanings of words
and terms change. That is what has happened to the term Enterprise Wide Applications
(EWA). There was a point in time when an EWA was almost synonymous with ERP,
and generally meant a large application that was for the use of every employee.
Today, when CIOs talk of an EWA, they refer not only to the ERP or database
but also smaller add-ons that sit on top of such systems and interact with other
The current term for this concept is Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) which
refers to loosely coupled software, or numerous software modules that interact
with each other. Even though the components are separate, to the users they
give the impression of being a single large application. This is achieved as
all the modules communicate with the user using a common interface.
In most organisations it is no longer sufficient to have a global system performing
tasks that approximately fulfil organisational requirements. Every function
and module has to be aligned specifically to the needs of its users. Beyond
that, it is necessary for each segment of the enterprise application to exercise
a certain degree of independence.
Partnering is VITAL
Turnaround time has to be brought down to a minimum. Companies spend a lot of
time manually corresponding with associates. For instance, to place an order,
a demand letter is sent to the manufacturer, who in turn sends a letter to a
logistics manager, upon which goods are delivered, invoices generated and payments
made. The process involves plenty of paper and eats up time. Since transacting
organisations need to account for lost time, they compensate by hiking their
margins. One solution that has been adopted by some enterprises is to let partners
access the internal database so that the process gets automated electronically.
In the last year we have seen Mahindra & Mahindra, Hero Honda and Marico
Industries complete the deployment of their SRM solutions that enable automated
demand generation and supply scheduling. The highlights of these systems include
automated order management, advance shipping notifications, reduced pipeline
inventories, and, consequently, more working capital.
An increasing number of CIOs have discovered that they need a similar implementation
in the near future because the results produced by such implementations correspond
to their objectives. Our broad aim is to increase our supply chain efficiency
by 30 percent. At present, our inventory levels stand at over 30 days; we want
to bring this down by 50 percent. We also want to reduce the time from order
to delivery by 30 percent, says Arindam Bose, head of IT at LG Electronics.
R P Dumasia, general manager, IT, Great Eastern Shipping, does not give specific
figures, but he agrees with Bose: Future improvements in our EWA will
bring our business partners into the network for faster and cleaner transaction
processing. The improved EWA will bring all operational issues to the forefront,
quickly and effectively.
In the aforementioned companies, the implementation worked because the SRM systems
were custom-made to fit into their ERP systems. Hero Honda and Mahindra &
Mahindra already had SAP R/3, and they added MySRM, which is also a SAP product.
Marico developed its own applications. As a result, they had no problems integrating
new modules with the existing system. However, not all companies use applications
that are compatible with add-ons. For such companies, it is not feasible to
revamp their entire infrastructure to add extra functionality. Consequently,
most CIOs will be in search of compatible plugins that will enable their partners
to access information. There will have to be simple plugins for existing
EWAs to connect the inside and outside of a business so that they integrate
smoothly and seamlessly, says Shirish Gariba, vice-president, IT, Elbee
Express. The ease of integration will be a pre-requisite for organisations such
as Kuoni Travel Group India because they grow by acquisition. A flexible in-house
system will make it easy to assimilate acquired setups.
One feature that a few CIOs intend to implement in the near future is to make
their EWAs available with a web browser. This has become imperative as the business
workforce grows mobile. With e-mail access through phones, PDAs and Blackberries
becoming commonplace, it is only logical that similar connectivity to the organisations
network is going to be in demand. The future is likely to see EWAs that either
incorporate remote access services or have plugins that will be able to convert
existing data into standard XML. Birla Sun Life Distribution and Café
Coffee Day already have solutions that connect a mobile workforce to a central
server. We have given PDAs to our relationship managers so that they can
view portfolios and then target the right clientele, says P Rangarajan,
assistant vice-president, operations and systems, Birla Sun Life. SOA may have
a big role to play in enabling platform-independent access to information.
Vice President - Information Technology,
Elbee Express Limited.
Reporting tools seem to be in the limelight. Although analysts
such as Gartner suggest that Indian enterprises have to mature before they adopt
business intelligence (BI), vendors seem to be pushing this technology, and
some CIOs see BI forming a part of EWA in the near future. EWAs will evolve
into data warehouses, and singular data mining, executive information systems
and BI systems will ensure seamless structures, faster reporting and more accurate
predictions, says Dumasia.
Technology is accepted as an imperative, and to that end the task of calculating
ROI is less of a burden on CIOs. Although some companies continue to assess
the worth of IT in terms of ROI, most have adopted a TCO approach. While this
is good because it is much easier for the CIO to get projects cleared, the onus
to optimise the investment in EWA lies on the CIOs shoulders. So how does
the IT head prove the worth of and manage his or her investment in EWA?
The most popular way of doing it appears to be to get management buy-in where
users take ownership of the system as much as its implementers. However, to
manage it in the true sense, most believe that with every new plugin a certain
amount of business process re-engineering (BPR) is required. In some companies,
BPR is an ongoing process, and according to Gariba and Pendse, this is the best
way. BPR must occur before and during [the deployment of] any plugin.
The change must be clearly defined, and the business must adapt the core process
along with the implementation.
Benefits to business
Asst VP operations and Systems, Birla Sun Life Distribution Company Ltd
Since we are talking about the future, it cant be called
a fact yet, but the expansion of EWA is inevitable. In the long run this will
result in greater automation and less person-dependent processes. Not only will
it reduce the scope for error, it will also result in smoother operations. According
to certain CIOs, it will provide businesses with the agility to respond quickly
to market trends. Considering that applications will be pieced together, the
EWA of the future will improve the scalability of the business. It will usher
in a new era of collaboration between business partners, thereby increasing
productivity, reducing turnaround time, and freeing working capital.