Learning From Tech Leaders

Amazon, Google and eBay show how things should be done.

Our recent eWEEK interview with eBays technology chief, Marty Abbott, offered convincing evidence that once again the new generation of application platform companies, such as Amazon, eBay and Google, are leading the way in IT.

When Amazon created the capability for users to order and track purchases via the Web, that capability made a big impact in the corporate ERP market. Corporate executives ordered a book from Amazon, were kept up-to-date via e-mail of their orders progress and were left wondering why they couldnt get the same information from their corporate ordering and tracking systems. Much of the activity from corporate ERP providers such as SAP over the past few years has been to provide those Amazon-like capabilities to large corporate systems. The recent—and embarrassing—difficulties that Hewlett-Packard encountered while meshing SAP systems indicates there is a lot of work yet to be done.

Googles search capabilities consistently show that it is easier to find information about companies and products on the other side of the world than to find information stored in your companys networks. The amount of time companies lose to employees searching for old e-mail, memos and financial data probably even surpasses the amount of time companies lose to their Fantasy Baseball and Football enthusiasts. I often hear about execs and tech professionals using Google to look from the outside into their companies networks. When you are using Google (there are other search engines that also do a good job) to search for information that resides within your own company, you know corporate search is in need of a serious overhaul.

Too often, discussions regarding technology investments reach an impasse as the technology and the business sides of corporate investment groups find themselves speaking different languages. The technology folks speak in acronyms and numbers while the business folks speak of receivables, inventory turns and business prospects. It is no wonder that frustration quickly builds to the boiling point, that technology budgets are easy targets, and that the rumblings of outsourcing overwhelm intelligent discussion and decision making.

Heres my advice for technology professionals trying to describe the importance of a corporate portal or for nontechnical executives trying to understand why they should make further investments in technology: Buy or sell something on eBay.

Instead of talking about corporate portals, try teaching your executives to set up a My eBay account. Show them how to bid, watch auctions and check payment options. Show them how to set up their own auctions and how to get as much information as they want about the state of those auctions and the ratings of the people either watching or bidding on products. Encourage them to clean out their garages and see what its like to hold a yard sale on the Web. As the interview with Abbott showed, the eBay site hides a great deal of complexity behind an interface so simple that millions of people can and do access the information being managed by the technology infrastructure.

Issues such as security, uptime, financial information, identity, customer and vendor relations, and inventory management and control are all being addressed on a worldwide, Web-based scale by companies such as eBay. Those issues are most likely the same issues your companys technology department is addressing. And as Abbott explained, eBay went through a painful learning process before it could consider expanding and adding the features now being offered to continue growth.

The technology road map is often a fixture in corporate budget discussions; the basic questions are, what is the current state of the architecture, and what are the investments needed over the next five years? With the techies and business execs too often finding themselves using maps written in different languages, no wonder technology investment suffers and frustrates. The next time you are asked for a road map, point at the Amazon, Google and eBay Web addresses and say, "Thats where were headed."

Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at eric_lundquist@ziffdavis.com.

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