Information Technology's Missing Link
Written by Kingsley Idehen,President & CEO, OpenLink Software

Situation Analysis

Achieving the full profit potential of each customer relationship is the fundamental goal of every business. The logic is as simple as it is compelling: Profits from customer relationships are the lifeblood of all businesses. At the most basic level, these profits can be increased in only three ways :-

1. Acquire new customers - to increase the number of people who use a product or service. This is driven by product / service vision.

2. Enhance profitability of existing customers - to motivate customers and employees alike into behaviors that generate higher returns, driven by management striving to achieve internal operational excellence.

3. Extend the duration of customer relationships - to maintain the enhanced behavior described above for a longer time, driven by customer intimacy and nothing else, ?the customer is always right?.

Business models are derived as the basis upon which the points iterated above are managed. In recent times the synergy of Computer Technology & Business Science in the form of Information Technology (I.T.) has provided the potential for making business management and development a more effective, timely, and efficient process.

The implicit business models that drive most large companies today are stifled in their attempts to realize the profit potential upon which they were derived. Why ? Primarily because the information systems infrastructure necessary to facilitate such a focus has historically trailed the evolution of ever changing business processes and practice. A major contributing factor to this problem is the fact that I.T. has historically reacted to, rather than anticipated the needs of the business community.

Information Technology Finally Responds

For the first time in the history of the modern day computer industry a cocktail of standards have been adhered to and coherently delivered to the end-user community in the form of the Internet (the infrastructure) and World Wide Web (the medium). In short the limitations that once proliferated the computer industry as a whole no longer exist, instead our imaginations and business technology savvy become the only limiting factors in this new and very exciting era of the so called Super Information Highway.

The Winsock Standard

The euphoria associated with the Internet, World Wide Web, and Web browsers in particular rarely ever make mention of the key standard that has enabled the crossover of the Internet, from the realm of rocket scientists to the mass communication infrastructure that it has become today. The Winsock standard from Microsoft has provided the foundation upon which standard Internet (actually TCP/IP) protocols and utilities such as the FTP, SNMP, Telnet, HTTP, NNTP, SMTP, POP, PPP, SLIP are coherently and collectively packaged and delivered to us all as Web Browsers or in some cases Internet application suites. Without this standard the benefits of popular products such as the Netscape and Mosaic Web browsers would be lost in the additional complexity and costs associated acquiring and configuring these tools for vendor specific TCP/IP products (typically called stacks).

The ODBC Standard

Unlike the Winsock standard the effects of this standard on the Internet are yet to be coherently packaged in a manner that illuminate its real importance. Within the corporate computing infrastructure its very promise to date has attracted unprecedented controversy.

The Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) standard from Microsoft provides a transparent database independent interface between based desktop productivity tools - Spreadsheets, Word Processing Software, Graphics Packages, Report Writers, Vertical Market Solutions etc. and your company?s corporate data sources (typically RDBMS engines).

ODBC facilitates access and manipulation of information by end-users in a manner congruent with their roles within the organization, resulting in tangible productivity gains typically inline with original investment expectations.

The Java Programming Language

The virtues of the Java effort are numerous , the most important being the ability to build sophisticated business solutions that better serve the external and internal requirements of your organization?s underlying business model, without any operating system, or computer hardware related restrictions or dependencies.

Java enables the development of prefabricated self serving components (popularly known as applets) that can be embedded in your Web Page, once equipped with a Java Virtual machine compliant web browser you are practically equipped with an on-demand operating system shutter. Java applets are operating system independent and the Java language can also be used to develop full blown stand alone applications in a manner identical to other popular programming languages in use today.

The Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA)

For quite a few years an organization by the name of the Object Management Group (OMG) has been working on the open definition of a critical piece of distributed computing technology known as the Common Object Request Broker Architecture, in short a standard that defines an Object Request Broker. Like most object oriented technologies the technical purists have salivated while the businesses and computer technology investing communities (I.T Directors, Managers etc..) have pretty much stood agog.

The real necessity for Object Request Brokers only comes to bear when the concept of Distributed Component Technology is coherently communicated and then delivered to its potential users. The emergence of Java, Object Linking & Embedding (OLE from Microsoft), and OpenDoc (from Apple) provide this coherence via a deliverable framework. Java/OLE/OpenDoc components represent resources encapsulating functionality and data, and over time industry and business function specific variants of these components will emerge and be referred to as Co-operative Business Objects (CBOs), irrespective of definition these components will typically reside on servers either within a corporate Intranet or somewhere out there on the Internet.

An Object Request Broker provides a mechanism through which you orchestrate the behavior of these components (typically in a networked environment), without necessarily having them physically loaded in their entirety on to your machine. A real life analogy can be drawn from daily interaction with our TVs , as our remote control represents an Object Request Broker, while the TV itself an end result of component assembly, with volume control, channel control, and color control buttons all representing prefabricated components. In the era that preceded remote controls we would have to get up and walk over to the TV each time we wanted to either change channels, color, contrast, or volume. The arrival of remote controls allowed us to perform the same tasks in the comfort of our favorite chair within a fraction of the time, expending a fraction of the effort. An Object Request Broker provides exactly the same benefit and comfort to users of Distributed Components, in short software development in the computer industry is finally acquiring the same engineering discipline widely practiced in other more mature industry sectors.

The Internet / World Wide Web as Mediums of Value Exchange

Value Exchange as the predominant business model in the Information Age, is based on the concept of exchanging profit generating value with your customers and prospects, put differently it basically conceptualizes the process of making customer intimacy the thrust of your business model. This process is best achieved by exploiting the wealth of information embedded within many of our corporate business systems.

The Internet is no longer predominantly a medium for obtaining information, it is increasingly being used as a medium of Value Exchange between suppliers and consumers. Thus, if customer intimacy is the basis upon which you would like to develop and nurture long term profitable relationships with your customers and business partners, the Internet is something your business simply cannot afford to ignore.

Elements of the Internet

Figure 1 conceptually illustrates the constituent elements of the Internet and how they collectively deliver a medium for Value Exchange.

OpenLink Software Brings The Pieces Together

OpenLink Software develops and deploys operating system and network protocol independent Database Connectivity Software. Our technology provides one of the most critical components of any modern day corporate information technology infrastructure.

OpenLink Facilitates Product Development & Vision

The wealth of historic data resident within corporate databases form one of the most important source of market research. The inferences drawn from these databases in many cases need to be applied in conjunction with information from other internal & external data sources. Our database connectivity technology enables you to obtain this information directly from the external sources via an Internet Web Page with the resultant data being written directly to an internal database, a key source of vital market research information.

The transparent links that we provide between the Internet and you corporate databases also provide the foundation upon which you can very easily devise new value added products and services, irrespective of industry.

OpenLink Delivers Operation Excellence

Our high-performance ODBC Drivers empower your employees, by providing them with transparent but controlled access to corporate data sources. The tools used for this interaction are typically desktop productivity tools that have typically been mastered by your employees over the years. Dedicated business applications also benefit from the underlying openness of our technology, as these applications no longer need to be inextricably linked to any particular DBMS engine.

Using OpenLink database connectivity technology as a link between your internal Web Pages (also called Intranet Pages) and corporate data sources, facilitates quick, effective, and inexpensive transmission of information throughout your organization.

OpenLink Enables Customer Intimacy

The World Wide Web enables you to expose customer service intensive aspects of your internal systems to your current and future customers, enabling them to interact with your organization on their terms. Product information, support, order status enquiries, and even purchasing transactions can all take place via your company?s Internet Web Site.

Our database connectivity technology enables realization of this process by providing the vital technology for linking Web Pages to your corporate databases without compromising security or performance.

OpenLink Components

Figure 2 illustrates our components working in concert


OpenLink Software has very successfully championed the process of developing ?open client-server middleware?, with a positive attitude towards current and emerging industry standards. The obvious reward for this effort, has been the mass uptake of our products and services on a global scale.

Kingsley Idehen, President & CEO, OpenLink Software