All joined together

18 Dec 2003

The concept of ‘joined up’ organisations is so ubiquitous that it has become a popular insult to accuse someone of being incapable of ‘joined-up thinking’. Everything from public services to public transport, we are told, should be linked up and connected.

The irony is that many of the people who evangelise on this subject do not apply the same rationale when it comes to developing their information strategies and, by extension, their IT infrastructures, according to Andy Ellwood (pictured).

When considering joined-up information strategies, the two important terms are integration and consolidation. Integration is the joining together of data from disparate information sources and consolidation is the physical combining of systems on to one common, shared infrastructure platform.

Before any of this can happen, all the users and systems must be physically joined together by an adequate network. In many organisations — especially those that have grown or changed rapidly — this still is not the case. So why is this important? The first reason why many small organisations start networking is usually because they have two or three users needing to use printers. It is more cost effective to have them share one good resource than to buy them an inferior printer each, with the associated costs of maintenance.

Basically, it is this same reason behind all integration and consolidation initiatives — the awareness that sharing offers real business, operational and financial benefits. It does not matter if you are sharing devices such as printers, actual data and information or physical storage.

Integration is the first step towards a joined-up information infrastructure. Many organisations have useful and business critical data in many places. People needing this information have to look in many different places at different times. It is, therefore, difficult in this situation to get an accurate, up-to-date picture of any aspect of your business. The net result of this is that crucial decisions are being made based on inaccurate data.

In many cases where separate systems exist, people have to invent manual processes involving products such as spreadsheets to collate information as it passes from one system to another. As soon as manual intervention is introduced, so is the risk of manual errors. Academic research using real world examples over the past 15 years or so has concluded that between 20pc and 40pc of all spreadsheets can contain undetected errors. In many individual cases, this number has been a lot higher.

Oracle understands the importance of integration and designs all of its products to be fully integrated. The Oracle E-Business Suite offers businesses and organisations a complete set of totally integrated applications capable of automating any function of daily business processes built around a single data model.

Oracle recognises that the vast majority of customers have existing systems that they will want to keep and so the suite is available for purchase by module or as a complete suite. We support open integration standards to offer a wide range of integration options whether it be with the e-business suite or other Oracle-based applications. Our single data model reduces integration points and open standards reduce integration expense and burden.

Integration delivers better quality data to help you run your business, but significant benefits come from full IT infrastructure consolidation. I am focusing here on physical consolidation (reducing the number of servers needed to support the infrastructure), but there are two other elements to consider as well — data consolidation (combining fragmented data into a single repository) and application platform consolidation (migration of multiple applications onto an appropriate new platform).

When hardware is being selected for a stand-alone system, it has to be sized for estimated peak performance. A financial department in a company will have a peak at the end of a financial reporting period as it closes the books. So, resources that are critical for just a few days a year are underused for the rest of the year.

Industry research has found that this is a significant issue. Forrester Research recently reported that server utilisation is only around 60pc and anecdotal evidence suggests this could be a fairly conservative estimate.

Industry analyst Giga estimates that companies could save 20pc to 60pc of their IT and support budgets by consolidating their information systems. The rationale behind this is very simple — server consolidation means fewer administrators, more effective hardware utilisation, fewer upgrades and patches to apply, tighter security and higher availability.

An IT consolidation project often acts as a catalyst for companies to review and consolidate their internal processes to better compete in today’s business environment.

By Andy Ellwood