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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 software components.

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.

Always Available

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 organisation’s 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.

Widespread Intelligence

Shirish Gariba
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.

Change management

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 CIO’s 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

P Rangarajan
Asst VP operations and Systems, Birla Sun Life Distribution Company Ltd

Since we are talking about the future, it can’t 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.


 

deepali@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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