Led by Microsoft, Cisco, and Intel, more than 50 vendors are now backing a common way to share systems management information using open industry-standard protocols on the World Wide Web.
IS managers and third-party vendors have praised the Web-based Enterprise Management initiative, but observers cautioned that lukewarm support from network management platform providers such as Sun Microsystems, IBM's Tivoli Systems unit, and Novell may mean that IS managers should not expect any immediate relief for their network headaches.
Most vendors would not say exactly when their products would work with the proposed specifications, which are expected to be made available later this year.
Some vendors, such as Cisco and Intel, said they expect to have compatible products in 1997, but industry analysts said they don't expect to see a wide range of compatible products until 1998.
Nevertheless, a common approach to network management could break through the most important barrier to effective management of the enterprise. At present, network managers can't optimise the performance of their applications because each element of the network uses different tools.
The initiative includes the HyperMedia Management Protocol (HMMP), an iteration of HTTP over which the network and systems management tools will communicate, and the HyperMedia Management Schema (HMMS), a hierarchical framework for the collected information. The HMMP initiative will be proposed to the Internet Engineering Task Force; the HMMS will be developed and managed by the Desktop Management Task Force.
Compaq, BMC Software, and Hewlett-Packard are also among the initial backers of the framework, along with Bay Networks, 3Com, and Cabletron Systems Brian Burba, an analyst at IDC, said HP's involvement means the initiative will succeed. "If platform vendors allow third-party developers to write to a single API, that will mean big changes for the industry - and for the better." the politics of purchasingThe ongoing deployment of corporate-wide client/server systems has led to the adoption of a wide array of planning and procurement strategies. Some companies are coping with the continued move to enterprise-wide systems and enterprise-wide decision-making by implementing single-vendor solutions and corporate-wide standards and purchasing By Ilan GreenbergUnfortunately, many resellers are just starting to catch up with this trend, forcing corporations to increase pressure on vendors to create licensing policies that match corporate decision-making patterns.
Individual IS departments are increasingly having to work with their CIOs to create system and procurement strategies that meet the corporation's business needs and leverage the power of volume purchases. Although this shift means less control over some decisions, it has helped IS managers deal with the frenetic upgrade schedules and complex licensing schemes of client/server vendors. With corporate-wide standards and high-volume purchasing clout, IS departments are in a better position to withstand the pain and cost of the never-ending cycle of product upgrades.
The centralisation of purchasing clout is, of course, nothing new. Not too long ago, the introduction of distributed systems threatened traditional IS shops, which held the computing and purchasing power in glasshouses. As PCs and networks made headway at the department level, purchasing became less centralised. But during the past few years, the pendulum has swung back the other way, as corporations began to tie together these decentralised and disparate systems.
Departmental IS managers who work closely with their CIOs will be in a better position to influence decision making, as well as counter vendors who take advantage of this centralisation of purchasing power.
"Moving ahead, we have to develop relationships with the senior business users. For example, I just met with both the CIO and the worldwide controller at Chrysler. This reflects the changing nature of how people buy not just my software but how they buy from the industry," says Doug MacIntyre, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Dun & Bradstreet Software, makers of the SmartStream line of business applications.
The buck stops here
Having varying degrees of the decision-making responsibilities migrate to the corner office is, on the one hand, a natural outgrowth of the emerging centralisation paradigm of technology acquisition. However, this trend is also strengthened by what some IS managers and analysts see as an evolving concept regarding how systems should fit together in an organisation. Instead of buying software and hardware piecemeal, IS managers increasingly approach individual technology not in isolation but as part of a total solution.
"If a lot of the purchasing is going to be more centralised than ever before, all of a sudden corporations are faced with million-dollar buying decisions," explains consultant Amy Wohl.
"Senior management looks at what is going on and says, wait a minute, let's make all our projects work together. Now all these things are going under a solutions banner, which is fine by IS managers, except they don't want to be responsible for making all these things work together," Wohl says.
Buying technologies as part of a larger package of software and hardware has significant implications for an IS department. Foremost among them, according to Wohl, is an increased reliance on system integrators. They provide the full range of IS services, from implementation of complicated enterprise software, such as SmartStream and SAP AG's R/3 line of business applications, to user training and help desk support - all services for which there is a great demand in this era of downsized IS departments.
For corporations planning to implement applications from companies without their own system integration arms, which even includes vendors such as Sybase, partnerships with complimentary vendors are likely to take on added importance as well. For example, Microsoft teams with partners such as Wang and Computer Associates to provide customers with integrated client/server solutions.
But one consequence of shifting responsibility to outside companies, such as vendors and system integrators, is the ability for these outside organisations to charge a premium for their services, Wohl warns. The ability to charge for the priv-ilege comes with the added responsibility ofproviding it.
Another ramification of this trend is an increased reliance on single vendors. This phenomenon has its detractors who point to the possible long-term corrosive effect that vendor consolidation could have on the market, but analysts and IS managers point out an upside: the opportunity to negotiate better contracts, because purchases are typically larger.
Some analysts also note that an increased reliance on a single vendor is in part dependent on the rate of technology adoption by a corporation. Technology laggards will more likely turn to a single vendor than corporations, which historically have jumped on leading-edge projects, according to analyst Karl Wong.
The pressure on IS departments to implement leading-edge technology will increase, because it is in the system integrators' best interests to propose the most advanced solutions. This further fuels the market demand for upgrades, Wong says. Although larger purchases can help drive down the per-unit cost of software and hardware, relying on a single vendor often means paying a premium for its products and services.
More standards, less trauma
The trend towards corporate-wide standardisation on unified platforms lets companies spend more time and resources preparing networks and end-users for the trauma of system upgrades. Moreover, corporate technology buyers say that the need for more centralised purchasing is increasingly driven by the need to institute enterprise-wide standards.
"Increasingly, organisations understand the utility of having standards. When you don't have standards you increasingly interfere with your organisation's way of doing its work," says Nicholas Rudd, a chief knowledge officer.
"Standards are driving worldwide implementation of upgrades. I can't have one office on one software package and a different office on another. Once everyone is standardised on one vendor's software, our upgrade plans have to be globally consistent," Rudd says.
IS departments better able to standardise their systems will be more suited to withstand one time-honoured computer industry trend that shows little indication of changing: the hectic introduction of upgrades.
For companies stuck in the departmental acquisition model, end-users hungry for better hardware and software can exert upgrade demands without justifying the expense of upgrading the entire company.
This trend away from acquiring systems departmentally and towards purchasing systems for the entire enterprise hasn't gone unnoticed by technology vendors. The big players, in particular those hoping to set corporate-wide standards for entire companies, are just beginning to recognise the need for licensing programs.
"More and more, we're seeing companies in a distributed environment really lean toward a centralised business model. They're trying to leverage all their business units and the capabilities those assets have in procuring software," says Bob Vellone, general manager of organisational licensing at Microsoft's head office.
"We didn't see this nearly as much five years ago. I think the challenge this places on a com-pany like Microsoft is to become very effective at doing business on a worldwide basis," Vellone says.
But at the corporations where the purchasing is taking place, some managers say vendors are playing catch-up with their customer's acquisition strategies.
"It's taken time for major software developers to understand the specific needs of global organisations, in part because vendors have only now become global themselves," Rudd says.
Corporations put pressure on vendors to provide single-standard, single-platform software, and vendors are finally beginning to recognise the need to simplify licensing and purchasing agreements.
"Our customers are asking for licensing agreements that can be put to them in the simplest of terms," Vellone says.
In coming years, strategic managers will take advantage of corporate-wide purchasing agreements to save their companies money, say many analysts. In fact, simplified licensing strategies may be just around the corner. Microsoft, for example, has come under intense criticism for its licensing program in the past year.
The company intends to make an announcement about improvements in its licensing program by year's end, Vellone says.
Companies unable to turn to advantageous global licensing agreements face the unpleasant prospect of paying more for the same technology than corporations with a worldwide reach; although this has always been true to some extent, during the next five years this bifurcation in acquisition-advantage will become significantly more pronounced, say some analysts and vendor executives.
The strategies IS managers can use now are some of the tried-and-true business practices that good corporate managers have long employed.
IS managers look at business value first, have a plan to succeed, and a plan to achieve results, because there's a short half-life to technology, MacIntyre says.
"So whether you are an IS manager or an end-user manager, make sure any software acquisition is based on a rapid return," MacIntyre adds. Others agree.
"I think the new strategy to think about is thriving on chaos, because the person you talk to today may have a new title tomorrow. Unless you're going with a company such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard or IBM, the likelihood that a small vendor won't be there tomorrow because it's likely to be acquired is pretty great," Wong cautions.
Political scientists love to point out the inherent tension between the values of liberty and equality. Such tensions also exist between the IS management values of rapid return and long-range outlook. Both will need to be accomm- odated for IS managers to successfully navigate the changing landscape in which they will buy technology.
"We're not looking at individual packages but full solutions, and we're not looking for best-of-breed products but, again, what can be delivered as the total solution," says Ed Erickson, systems/ programming manager.
Putting the business rationale at the forefront of the corporate purchasing plan remains the first rule of smart technology acquisition. "You should always think about the same thing: What business purpose does this serve?" Wohl says. "If you can't answer that question, you're probably not doing it right."