In the third quarter of 2011, Apple sold 15 million of its iPhones. In the first quarter of 2012, that number jumped to 45 million. A sales increase of that magnitude in such a short time is the stuff of dreams for any business manager. Beware of what you wish for, however -- it's also likely to bring the enterprise crashing down.
The moral of the story is to get ready, and be prepared to handle such sudden shifts. Today, few enterprises outside of the fabled Apple corporation are capable of handling even more modest spikes in production, Karl-Heinz Streibich, CEO of Software AG, points out. "Do you know of any traditional enterprise that is able to scale by 200% from one quarter to another?" he asks.
Streibich's remarks were part of an executive panel presentation hosted by Software AG at this week's CeBit event in Hannover, Germany. Streibich and his co-presenters made the case for enterprises opening up and standardizing processes to achieve what they call the emerging "digital enterprise." (Disclosure: I attended CeBit as a guest of Software AG.)
IT executives and professionals will be playing a critical role in this evolution going forward, and it's already reshaping and recasting many IT jobs. It means new opportunities for IT professionals skilled in enterprise integration and architecture, among other areas. That's because it's going to take a highly integrated technology infrastructure to get to the digital realm. Back-end ERP systems will need to talk to front-end touchpoints. Data streaming in from a variety of new sources needs to be identified and modified for analytics engines, which then can be streamed, as close to real-time as possible, to decision-makers' dashboards -- and to other applications. Openness is the key.
The best way to get started on this journey, Streibich advises, is to review ways to achieve end-to-end transparency with functions, from the production floor to the customer's mobile phone. Technology best enables this by "applying a digital layer on top of existing IT silos." This digital layer would be the support infrastructure for mobile systems, user collaboration, customer collaboration, and detailed analytics," which is an absolute requirement today."
An effective digital (or quasi-digital) enterprise employs analytics, automation, and collaborative technologies to achieve 360% visibility into customers as well as operations.
"Analog enterprises live in the dark ages, where they don't have the insight to what is really going on between them and their customers," said Streibich. "They don't have the full insights into business operations. There are too many dark spots. They don't have the visualization or the KPIs to understand what is going on in their enterprises."
Enabling a digital enterprise means more than simply bringing in and foisting new technology on existing channels, Streibich and his colleagues caution. "If you want to become a digital company to your customers, you have to become a digital company internally," said Wolfram Jost, CTO of Software AG. "You can't establish digital channels on a traditional IT infrastructure. That simply does not work. You have to look end to end, from customers to internal processes."