IT Moves into the Future

In a world of infrastructure integration, RFID, open-source productivity software, grid architectures and more, IT managers discuss a more positive investment focus.

After years of striving to limit the damage of downsizing and contain the chaos of malware and spam, theres a sense in the enterprise IT community that its time to start moving forward once more.

IT pros are well positioned today to take advantage of ubiquitous broadband and wireless connections and to exploit the affordable integration opportunities of Web services.

Ironically, theyre even gaining new leverage from government mandates such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to elevate the level of IT practice.

Members of eWEEKs Corporate Partner Advisory Board recently discussed some of the routes they are exploring. The resulting themes are examined in this story and in the additional comments appearing throughout the package.

Integration and auditability

The current resurgence of corporate merger and acquisition activity is finding IT departments ready to roll in response to the resulting infrastructure integration demands—and even to convert those burdens into benefits.

"If theres one thing AT&T has been very good at, its consolidation," said Glenn Evans, district manager for enterprise foundation architecture at AT&T Global Networking Technology Services, in Middletown, N.J. "Weve gotten to the point now where weve automated so many different things."

AT&Ts IT strategy, said Evans, whose company now faces acquisition by SBC Communications Inc., lately has emphasized the notion of "concept of one"—that is, consolidation of the redundant applications that large enterprises often find themselves hosting. Thats a concept that "SBC is very eager to implement," said Evans.

That unification may also prove, in many organizations, to be a long-delayed benefit of Y2K-compliance efforts. Many companies gained experience in identifying and pruning redundancy as the first step in their Y2K remediation.

Combined with the continued shift from proprietary to open systems during the five years since that time, many enterprise IT departments find themselves far more agile than they were a decade ago—and, therefore, much more able to evaluate and adopt improved solutions.

Corporate Partner Sam Inks—whose former employer, Atlantic Research Corp., has been acquired by Aerojet—now finds himself on the cusp of that kind of system improvement.

"We ended up, as fate would have it, with totally disparate financial and manufacturing systems, human resources systems and everything else," said Inks, who is now Aerojets director of IT, in Gainesville, Va. "We started, about four weeks ago, just a complete re-evaluation of all the standard systems in both entities and started looking at consolidating into a single-vendor system—which is a major, major undertaking."

That systems overhaul, Inks said, will be driven in part by lessons learned from Aerojets completion of its first full SarbOx audit. Chief among those lessons was what Inks called an "unbelievable" explosion in required levels of business process documentation.

"Consider that no matter how well youre known ... no ones going to believe a word you say," said Inks. "Whatever you need to collect to prove that what you say is true, multiply that by two, and youre about there."

IT departments that have invested during the last few years in standards-based technologies, such as Web services, and repurposable data formats, such as XML, will reap the rewards when their systems face similar demands for integration and auditability—whether those demands are due to mergers, to regulatory mandates or to continued desire for greater supply chain efficiencies.

Next Page: The future of RFID.