Creating Digital Nervous Systems

“Virtually everything in business today is an undifferentiated commodity except how a company manages its information. How you manage information determines whether you win or lose.” -Bill Gates

Redmond, Wash., August 12, 1998 — Corporations, like humans, don’t operate efficiently if their various functions aren’t well coordinated. A digital nervous system for a corporation’s computers, just like a central nervous system for a human being, must sort and prioritize a huge amount of data quickly and efficiently — and do it in order.

Today, large companies typically contain various and numerous computer systems that have been acquired over a number of years. Frequently, those systems have grown and evolved in different ways, effectively creating “islands” of technology that can’t easily “talk” to each other and exchange information.

For corporations, this means that valuable customer information is often trapped in a huge mainframe database, largely inaccessible to employees, or that key financial data is constantly duplicated in different branches of the same company. When a company has millions of clients these problems can magnify, causing customer service issues and huge internal inefficiencies.

Integrating a company’s computer systems and safely linking them to other systems over the Internet while making the process invisible to customers is extremely expensive — and hard to do. And that’s why Microsoft and numerous software partners plan to demonstrate solutions to these problems during the Business Applications Conference, Sept. 9-11, in Las Vegas.

“This is really Microsoft’s first attempt at giving people a hands-on, how-to forum for creating complete, integrated business solutions,” said James Utzschneider, director of evangelism for Microsoft’s Application Developers Customer Unit. “Independent software vendors, system integrators and customers will demonstrate real-world solutions, then strip them down to code and put them back together again – all live on stage over two days.”

The conference will establish electronic links between two fictitious companies: a manufacturer of pump and compressor equipment; and an energy company that uses pumps and compressors. In various scenarios, the systems of the two companies will talk to each other via a secure Internet connection and dial-up connections. The process of linking these two companies will be further illustrated by real-world demonstrations from several major corporations.

For example, if the manufacturing company discovers it is out of pump No. 43, its system can automatically respond to the energy company’s system with a message indicating that pump No. 43 is out of stock, but that pump No. 42 with adapter No. 1A will perform the same function for the same price. The system could also send a 2-D picture to the energy company’s engineers showing how the suggested solution would look. Internally, the manufacturing company’s staff can be alerted that pump No. 43 is out of stock and that an order for 12 more has been dispatched to the shop floor.

Other demonstrations at the conference will show how to integrate AS400, Unix, Windows or mainframe systems to enable the sharing of data, and how an intranet can be used to track and fulfill orders through various corporate departments.

“What our partners are showing corporate America during the conference is not only how to build and install new applications and get ready for online commerce, but also how to link those applications to their existing computers,” Utzschneider said. “We believe that in the next few years this will become as basic for companies as learning to walk and talk is for people – something you kind of need to get by.”

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