Beyond Computing Magazine
Starting in 1998, Beyond Computing Magazine offered numerous articles to its readership.
The content below is from the site's 1999 - 2000 archived pages offering just a small sample of what the site offered its readers
HOW TO PROFIT FROM BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE
by Samuel Greengard
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Doug Brady of Plante
An informed decision is likely to be a smart decision. That simple reasoning is the secret behind the growing popularity of business intelligence (BI) solutions, a mix of processes and technologies -- including decision support systems, Online Analytical Processing and data mining -- that enable companies to access and use their data in ways they never could before. Discover how a number of diverse organizations are using BI solutions to make business decisions that will benefit their bottom line.
FROM CUSTOMER SATISFACTION TO CUSTOMER LOYALTY
by Nick Wreden
A satisfied customer may be tempted to stray, but a loyal customer is one you can count on, provided he or she can count on you. The companies in this article -- whether they provide credit, communications or floor-care products -- combine respect, attention, service and the right technologies to win and keep loyal customers.
COMBATING COMPUTER VIRUSES
by Lenny Liebmann
When is a bank as vigilant about viruses as a hospital? When the viruses are of the computer variety, of course. In this article, a hospital, a bank, a food services firm and two finance companies reveal the software and the strategies they employ to protect their data, including methods for scanning e-mail, educating employees, integrating virus protection with systems management and neutralizing hoaxes.
HOW TO MEASURE IT PERFORMANCE
by Eileen M. Birge
It isn’t easy to gauge how a technology department is doing. After all, it operates in many different areas and at many different levels. But effective performance measurement often leads directly to performance improvement. This article discusses the complex issues involved and presents a new “dashboard” approach, which is designed to measure six individual categories that reflect the full measure of a technology department’s performance.
Trends in Technology
SALESFORCE AUTOMATION PAYS OFF
by Mary Ryan Garcia
Enhanced communication and teamwork; created a central database for customer contacts; enabled a payroll system to reflect broker commissions; transmitted enterprise data to field sales managers; cut costs; improved service; and united a global salesforce. That’s an impressive list, but, according to the firms in this article, these are just some of the things salesforce automation has done for them.
CHECKING YOUR Y2K PROGRESS
by Eric Wakin
As the year 2000 gets closer, help just keeps getting harder to find. Yet, if the immovable millennium deadline fills you with fear -- or even a little anxiety -- you may want some assistance. Here are people, places and products you can turn to in order to help your computers and your company face the new century with confidence.
WEB-BASED TRAINING WORKS FOR BUSINESS
by Maria Behan
Companies are finding that training delivered via the Internet is convenient, cost-effective and relatively easy to support. The organizations in this article have blazed the web-training trail by offering everything from technology expertise to banking and business skills. Learn how they did it, and why everyone is so pleased with the results.
TURNING A COMPANY INTO AN E-BUSINESS
by Jenny C. McCune
Follow the footsteps of five enterprises from four different industries as they changed their ways of doing business and embarked on new e-business ventures. Their goals ranged from selling food on the web to letting trucking customers track shipments, and they chose different paths to reach them. But this examination of the strategies they used, the issues they dealt with, the challenges they met and the technology choices they made should help ease any company’s move into the e-business world.
ENSURING EXCELLENCE IN TECHNOLOGY STAFF
by Ronald Thielen, SHARE
The IT staffing challenge is one of quality as well as quantity, says the president of the SHARE user group. He describes the technical skills, perspective and motivation that define top-notch technology professionals, and explores ways to develop these characteristics in your current -- and future -- staff.
POLISHING YOUR IMAGE AS A LEADER
by William L. Ayers
Leadership involves both what you do and how other people perceive you. To become a recognized leader in your field, you need to focus your self-improvement efforts on these key areas: vision, listening skills, education, public relations, professional involvement and personal appearance. A career management expert explains what you can do to polish your image as a leader.
NEW CAPABILITIES DRIVE SPEECH PROCESSING
by Amy D. Wohl
Continuous speech recognition, larger vocabularies and natural language processing are just some of the enhancements that are bringing voice technology into the mainstream. Read about the latest products and applications -- from the desktop to the corporate phone directory, from developers’ tool kits to computers that talk -- and find out what you’ll be talking about tomorrow.
Code of Ethics
WHO NEEDS AN ETHICS OFFICER?
by Dr. James Linderman
While good ethics is always good business, and ethical conduct is the responsibility of everyone in an organization, some companies could benefit greatly by delegating ethical issues to a designated ethics officer. Is your company one of them? This article presents six factors to consider -- from expectations and temptations to risk and cost/benefit analyses -- in deciding whether an ethics officer is right for your organization.
CHECK YOUR CULTURE IQ
by Dr. Edward Wakin
A company’s culture is composed of the unwritten rules and norms that determine how things are done in an organization. This column offers expert advice on identifying your company’s culture and on ascertaining -- and adjusting -- the way you fit in.
The Courage to Change
You can’t be afraid of replacing old processes if they are standing in the way of new opportunities.” So says Michael Blystone, e-business leader at GE Managed Service Solutions, about the need to transform business processes when moving to an e-business model.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But businesspeople who have lived through major changes in technology, processes and personnel know just how hard -- and how risky -- it can be.
Laurence Tosi, director of business development for Direct Markets at Merrill Lynch, sums up the dilemma today’s businesses are facing: “The Internet gives you the ability to experiment and to change existing processes, but it’s difficult to change what’s always worked well before.”
That’s true. After all, it’s human nature to feel that we should leave well enough alone. Very few of us rush to embrace change. Most of us need to be convinced of the value that change will bring, and some of us simply dig in our heels and resist for as long as we can.
This is especially true for changes that impact the way people work. And technology projects have a major impact on the way people work. In fact, transforming a traditional enterprise into an e-business involves drastic changes not only in how people do their job, but also in the kinds of technology used, the processes and practices followed, and the manner in which enterprises interact with their customers, business partners, staff and competitors.
That level of change can be intimidating. So organizations implementing e-business strategies must face -- and overcome -- their staff’s natural reluctance to shake things up. Industry consultants have said repeatedly that change management is critical to the success of any technology implementation. Yet, many enterprises don’t pay enough attention to this crucial area.
An e-business initiative requires sweat and sacrifice -- and the wholehearted support of both management and staff. To win that support, you must show how the project will benefit both the enterprise and its employees. Give your people the courage to change by helping them understand the reasons for the change.
One way to do that is by emphasizing the potential rewards of e-business: satisfied customers, productive employees, streamlined processes, greater penetration in existing markets, entry into new markets around the world and, ultimately, a better bottom line.
And don’t forget the employee’s bottom line: Tying your firm’s reward system to the success of an e-business implementation gives the staff a vested interest in that success and may help overcome their fear of change.
If that isn’t convincing enough, there’s always this often-quoted statement: A company that doesn’t become an e-business won’t be in business in the long term.
Eileen Feretic Editor in Chief
Making Technology a Marketing Partner
by Peter Gwynne
High-tech selling requires high-tech marketing tools. Marketers -- who know their products, customers and demographics -- should be working with it to put those tools to good use.
hen SpeedyClick.com, an advertising-based entertainment website, was launched in January 1999, Shahab Emrani, co-founder and senior vice president of marketing of the Glendale, Calif.-based company, made it his first marketing priority to learn everything he could about the site’s visitors.
“I need to know what my clients are like,” he explains. “If I have a store and know that most of my clients love chocolate, then when they come in, I’ll have chocolate for them.” His need-to-know philosophy is also based on having a second customer constituency -- advertisers, who require similar information about the use patterns and demographics of the site’s visitors.
Emrani believes that the key to getting the information that is required -- both by his company, a wholly owned subsidiary of ShopNow.com, and by its advertisers -- is customer relationship management (CRM), a discipline that depends heavily on IT tools. So he makes sure that the IT department works as his partner in the ongoing effort to get customer information.
“We’ve got to involve the technology team,” he points out, “so I meet with key IT people in short meetings two to four times a day. Without them, we’d be driving on the information highway with our eyes closed.”
High-tech solutions to common marketing problems are seldom recognized for their sophistication. For example, marketers of consumer products are constantly looking for better ways to display their wares. North Face manufactures products where fabric color is a major factor driving sales, yet it is difficult to demonstrate how a product many look across a large selection of printed fabrics without a separate product shot for every design/color - a prohibitive cost. A technological solution enables requiring only one photo shoot with a "white" product model, and single images of the fabrics. For an apparel item, instead of simply layering the fabric over the model, the software processes the fabric image to "bend and fold" naturally so that a product shot of a North Face jacket looks great online made from any fabric.
One suggestion from the technology department led SpeedyClick.com to sign up with consumer analysis and e-targeting company Cogit.com. Subscribers to Cogit use the consumer profile information IT gathers to enrich their understanding about the relationship between individual websites and the visitors they attract.
The profile can contain any criteria that might be commercially useful: age groups, what customers do for a living, their interests, even what percentage of them drive to work and in what kinds of cars. “The in-depth information the system gives me is invaluable,” Emrani asserts.
Another continuing project between IT and marketing deals with servicing the thousands of affiliate sites that feed visitors to SpeedyClick.com. “If our affiliates don’t know how they’re performing, or if it’s difficult for us to service them with information, they’ll go away,” Emrani states. SpeedyClick.com, which is strong on in-house technical expertise, has been able to develop many of these solutions (ways to recognize users or get information to affiliates) itself.
A COMFORTABLE FIT
Information technology clearly has a great deal to offer marketing. Gary Williams, marketing research manager for Hanes Printables, a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based division of Chicago-based Sara Lee, advises asking for more from in-house IT departments than help in setting up marketing-oriented technology applications.
“With encouragement, information technology departments can become partners in the corporate mission,” he explains. “They can contribute ideas for improving the reach and effectiveness of marketing, and can suggest vendors that can help carry out those ideas.”
At Hanes Printables, the IT department never misses an opportunity to present ideas that could improve the company’s marketing. “They recently suggested an internal survey of end users in the company, to measure satisfaction with their services,” reports Williams. “The survey will also be used to learn about any areas in the company that need special assistance, consulting or recommendations for systems projects.”
One key to successful web-based marketing is to take advantage of the Internet’s enormous reach. Hanes Printables sells T-shirts, sports shirts and similar items of clothing to wholesalers and embellishers, who print or embroider them with emblems and messages. “We do a lot of B2B research,” explains Williams, “and we’ve created a database containing thousands of embellishers.”
That’s a huge customer base to track, but the company’s fortunes rise or fall on its ability to read those embellishers’ minds. A year ago at a conference, Williams saw a demo of Inquisite, an Internet-based electronic survey system from Catapult Systems. He recognized its potential for obtaining information, not only about Hanes’s own products and services, but about its competitors’ activities as well.
After securing the IT department’s help in evaluating some alternative survey packages, Williams signed up Hanes to use Inquisite for Internet surveys. “Marketing research and IT agreed that Inquisite was the most useful package at the most attractive price point,” he reports. “Now we survey our embellishers and wholesalers, either through a website or by sending out e-mail invitations to participate.”
Before that system could be implemented, however, someone had to set up the software. “If you want to deploy Inquisite surveys directly to your own web server, you’ll probably need some configuration assistance from it,” Williams suggests. “Without their help -- which included the actual deployment, first to a test server and then to a production server, plus handling security issues and assisting with some test surveys -- it would have taken much longer to get the job done.” Now, marketing people can create their own surveys and deploy them easily to the Hanes website.
BOUQUETS TO BRANDING
National florist 1-800-FLOWERS.COM also understands the value IT can add to marketing efforts. “1-800-FLOWERS.COM is a brand,” points out Joe Hage, director of relationship marketing for the Westbury, N.Y.-based company. The significance of brand identity, he explains, is the need to understand the consumer’s point of view -- not only about products, but about the company itself.
To succeed, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM relies on effective interactions with its customers. “We subscribe to the notion of one-to-one relationship marketing,” Hage says. “We have to be able to view our customers as individuals and customize what we offer them.” Doing that depends on knowing the level of permission a customer has given the company -- an impossibility without reliable information.
“I depend on the IT department to give me customer data and to ensure its accuracy,” he reports. “One-to-one relationships are enabled only by IT .”
The company uses Prime@Vantage.com from Prime Response to integrate data drawn from Internet channels (such as e-mail and the web) with traditional marketing channels (such as direct mail, call centers, direct sales systems and mass-market advertising).
The IT department has added value to the Prime@Vantage.com system. The company used to keep its customer lists at an outside vendor, but updates to the system were always one financial quarter behind. To rectify that, in late 1999, the lists were brought in-house with the help of it. “We now have a much more efficient process for adding transactions to our customer records,” Hage explains.
How can marketers obtain the best value from their IT department? Emrani of SpeedyClick.com recommends familiarizing the technology staff with the marketing vision and keeping in constant touch with IT personnel.
“Interaction is essential and leads to ideas that can make a firm more successful,” he says. “Recently, our IT staff came up with an idea to increase site registration. Now we’re bundling it with other concepts and syndicating it to our clients.”
Automating marketing can create problems, however, namely privacy concerns. In response, designers and users of Internet marketing solutions have devised technologies and policies to maintain user confidentiality.
“Everything is anonymous with Cogit software,” Emrani emphasizes. “Cogit can tell me how many of my site’s visitors drive motorcycles, but not the specific people who drive them. The idea is not to pry into personal information, but simply to get a demographic concept or snapshot.”
As a matter of company practice, Hanes maintains the confidentiality of the data it gains from its business clients. “We do not share or sell information we collect with other companies,” Williams declares. “When we invite our business customers to participate in our electronic surveys for the first time, we ask them to let us know if they prefer that we not contact them for future electronic surveys.” Here again, the IT department provided assistance in setting up the customer database to ensure that customers who say no to future surveys are not solicited again for that purpose.
Clearly, Internet-based marketing has advantages of speed, reach and personalization over the traditional variety. But, to get the best results, you must have the technology department on your team. “If it does not interact with management or marketing, the company cannot succeed in the long run,” concludes Emrani of SpeedyClick.com.
Peter Gwynne is a freelance science, technology and business journalist based in Marstons Mills, Mass., and a former science editor for Newsweek.
Taking the Hits: Making Your Website Scalable
by Samuel Greengard
A huge spike in demand can cause a website that functions just fine one day to grind to a halt the next. Fortunately, there are ways to make sure that doesn’t happen to your site.
n only a few short years, the web has evolved from a novelty to a mission-critical business tool. In fact, electronic commerce transactions will hit $3.2 trillion by 2003, according to Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. Business-to-business transactions will account for $1.8 trillion of that, compared to only $43 billion in 1998. However, such enormous growth doesn’t come without a cost. Today, many companies are finding that it’s increasingly difficult to keep up with the demands placed on their systems.
“Website scalability is the key to success in the e-business arena,” states Gene Alvarez, a program director for Electronic Business Strategies at the META Group, a research and consulting firm in Stamford, Conn. But success can be elusive, since scalability is a complex challenge that typically involves an array of variables.
A site might require monitoring and load-testing software, additional servers and bandwidth, external web hosting, and network optimization software to manage load balancing, caching and more. “There’s no one solution that works for everyone,” Alvarez points out. “It depends on the industry, the technology and the functionality that’s required to make everything work efficiently.”
PARTNERING WITH STAFF
At Partners HealthCare System, a Boston-based integrated healthcare provider, a scalable web environment is essential. The company manages nine hospitals (including Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham & Women’s Hospital), which are staffed by more than 4,000 physicians and 30,000 other professionals. It also manages a 1,000-member network of primary care physicians in the Massachusetts area, called PCHI -- Partners Community Healthcare. Creating a physicians’ network and providing access to key data, including patient records, emerged as a priority a couple of years ago, and the web proved a natural place to begin.
Partners HealthCare developed a web-based physician portal, PCHI net, that allows primary care physicians affiliated with the network to access clinical results (chemistry, microbiology, hematology, pathology, blood bank), radiology reports, operative notes, discharge summaries and more. It’s possible to view detailed information, regardless of whether the doctor is in a home office or one of the company’s facilities.
The system can support thousands of concurrent users and can be constantly scaled up to support additional functionality and traffic. Overall, Partners HealthCare has some 80 developers working on 50 different applications projects. At present, the system houses more than 25 million lab specimen reports, 260 million lab tests and 10 million reports.
To ensure that the system can support the organization’s needs, Partners designed a platform for high-performance web environments with high-availability application servers. Compaq ProLiant servers run Microsoft Windows NT, with InterSystems’ Cach DBMS (for database management), and Cach Web-Link Developer (the web application layer), and Microsoft IIS (web server).
High-performance software is not the only tool used. “The key to making the systems work,” explains Steve Flammini, director of application development, “is to have the data, business logic and business presentation layers properly insulated from one another. That allows us to quickly web-enable an application, even a client/server application, so that it is available to a larger geographic area -- across hospitals and even outside the area.”
In the future, Partners hopes to push the web capabilities out to patients and consumers, and allow them to access medical information, services and more. Partners also uses the web to connect physicians and others through an e-mail, staff directory and paging system. “The web offers us an opportunity to improve our marketability and the timeliness of information delivery, while simultaneously reducing our costs,” Flammini says.
An organization can plan for variations in growth and demand, as well as future expansion, claims Alvarez of the META Group, if it focuses on a technology base that enables it to handle an array of future scenarios. “Every company has peaks and valleys in demand,” he points out.
“Some firms may be willing to make the investment necessary to ensure 100 percent performance and availability. For enterprises that are not prepared to make that kind of investment, it’s important to focus on the key issues and identify roadblocks.” Most often, that means understanding traffic and usage patterns, flaws in applications, bandwidth limitations, and the overall layout of servers, routers and other gear.
HEAVY TRAFFIC FROM ALL OVER
It’s a message that hasn’t been lost on Vinnie Costa, senior director of web engineering at New York-based Standard & Poor’s, which provides financial and investment data to institutions and individuals worldwide -- much of it through the Internet. Website scalability and performance have been major issues because the firm recently consolidated content from several sites -- some of which were hosted externally -- into a single site, and began to manage everything in-house.
Standard & Poor’s now offers 14 major products worldwide, on a 24x7 basis. One such product is the Global Markets real-time financial market analysis platform, which receives upward of 60,000 hits a day from all over the world.
Horizontal scalability, manageability and testing are some of the strategies Costa employs to ensure the site’s overall scalability and reliability. Horizontal scalability refers to Standard & Poor’s use of more than one hundred mid-range servers (Sun Enterprise 250s and 450s running Solaris) instead of one or two high-end servers.
“By utilizing a greater number of smaller servers, we can take one server offline for maintenance or an upgrade, configure failover very easily and add machines for more capacity,” Costa explains.
But he also warns that the use of many servers requires careful attention to other aspects of the system’s architecture. At Standard & Poor’s, a front end (Central Dispatch load-balancing software from Resonate) directs website traffic among the many servers hosting the Standard & Poor’s web products that run on the multitier Netscape Application Server, Netscape Enterprise Server and Oracle architecture.
Costa chose Resonate’s load-balancing approach because its monitoring agent installs on every web server. This enables the use of Resonate’s Commander monitoring and management tool, as well as TIBCO’s TIB/Hawk distributed applications monitor, for automated system recovery and cleanup. Commander and TIB/Hawk also report back through Standard & Poor’s Hewlett-Packard OpenView network management system. For even more intelligence about website use, log data from the multiple web servers is collected in an Oracle database using Accrue’s Insight software, which further simplifies traffic analysis.
Costa also tests, which helps him understand the strengths and weaknesses of the network. The testing, which is handled by RadView’s WebLoad software, helps determine the load-balancing, mirroring and caching practices that improve site performance.
Standard & Poor’s is planning to use Resonate’s Global Dispatch for geographical load balancing. This will redirect traffic from servers at maximum capacity to ones that are underused. Asian and European server traffic, for example, will automatically be diverted to the United States when those markets are open and domestic markets are closed. When the American markets are open, the reverse will occur. Ultimately, that will reduce equipment and staffing costs and improve the website’s performance.
“Planning for scalability is a huge challenge,” Costa concludes. “What you have to keep in mind is that you don’t need all the equipment and software in place up front. It’s essential to design for future capacity and prepare for unanticipated shifts in traffic. It’s also crucial to design a site for maximum flexibility so that it will grow seamlessly with customer demand.”
A PAPERLESS PRACTICE
At Finkelstein, Levine, Gittelsohn & PARTNERS, a Newburgh, N.Y., negligence law firm with more than 60 attorneys in 14 offices throughout New York State, the focus is also on scalability.
In 1999, managing partner Andrew Finkelstein began designing a web architecture that would give the firm’s clients web-based access to the medical documents, complaints, bills of particulars and other documents associated with a case. He hired systems integrator REAL Solutions to install an IBM AS/400 web server, running Lotus Domino, as the web front end to the firm’s AS/400 production box, which runs an IBM DB2 database. It supports the firm’s in-house developed case management and financial systems, as well as Magellan Software’s SpyVision document imaging software. An intranet based on that platform, which uses three T1 lines sourced from AT&T for Internet connectivity, has allowed the personal injury law firm to go entirely paperless.
Establishing the right capacity of the web system entailed reviewing the size of the firm’s client base, then taking a percentage of that as the potential number who would want web access. At present, the system stores information on more than 6,500 clients and can display an individual’s case file within three seconds, including police reports and annotated briefs. Security and privacy are assured by the Domino web server ID and password features, and by not storing any critical or sensitive documents there -- only on the production box.
“For now, our capacity exceeds our requirements, but we know that we can handle peak demand and grow with the needs of the firm,” Finkelstein reports. “Today, business is all about service, and ensuring instant access to information is essential. Once you fall down on your level of service, your odds for success are greatly diminished.”
In the end, says Kim Mathias, vice president and general counsel of EurekaDIGITAL, a Burbank, Calif., e-business consulting and professional services company, there is no cookie-cutter approach for achieving successful scalability. (See “Assuring Scalability”.) However, enterprises must plan for future growth.
“Too many companies build an architecture based on current needs without taking into account how the company, industry and world might change in the months and years ahead,” she points out. “It’s often less expensive and more cost-effective to build the right infrastructure up front. It’s obviously important to think about current demand, but you also should consider where the organization is headed in two years or even five years. That’s how you build competitive advantage.”
Samuel Greengard is a Burbank, Calif., writer who covers business and technology. His articles have appeared in American Way, Business Finance, Continental Profiles, Industry Week, Wired and Workforce.