By Matt Kramer, Syntegra
The Internet promises a cure for almost anything that ails a business. Companies are learning, though, that it can create as many problems as it solves.
The danger lies in thinking about the Internet as a solution itself, instead of seeing it as a business technique. Many companies rush to new solutions with little thought of long-term consequences. They fail to map out a corporate plan that includes the Internet as an enterprise-wide strategy. The result is lost productivity and increased operational costs.
This is particularly true in the energy industry. Whether the subject is asset management or energy trading, providing up-to-date information from multiple data sources, in an easy and timely way, can provide a clear competitive advantage. Companies are racing toward Internet-based strategies to gain this advantage. With each new Internet application, though, they become more entangled in the Web.
This is the Internet trap. For example, a company might wish to view safety data. If the company has multiple generating facilities, it undoubtedly has multiple versions of a safety-tracking system, some from different vendors. With a Web browser as the desired display, the company can quickly create an application that collects data from dispersed applications and displays it in its browser.
It sounds simple, and it is. Whether it’s safety data, plant maintenance information, insurance risk management or human resources data, the use of a Web application to collect and display data is easy.
But by building these displays and connecting multiple data sources, companies weave a web of multiple applications, each requiring their own ongoing maintenance and operation, and each dependent on specific “pieces” of data supplied by a wide variety of business applications. A version change in Australia or a new vendor system in France will force extensive upgrades (and constant maintenance) from an already overworked IT staff.
This is the Internet reality. The Internet creates tremendous opportunities, but it does not absolve companies from mapping out corporate strategies that leverage all capabilities-not just the attributes of a given application, or the requirements of one department. In fact, aligning a complete IT strategy with the Internet offers compelling competitive advantages. A couple of examples come to mind.
First, worldwide connectivity via the Internet is an operational reality. With the appropriate security and infrastructure investments, global energy providers can tie together their application and operating infrastructure for just a fraction of the cost of a dedicated telecommunications infrastructure.
The savings increase when companies combine voice and data traffic in a multi-channel IP (Internet Protocol) solution. Typically called Voice-over IP (VoIP), such solutions offer companies the opportunity to combine voice and data traffic into one set of connections among operating locations worldwide. Savings over dedicated circuits are measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars for a company with operations in difficult-to-reach locations like Australia, Africa or South America.
Second, the advent of a common desktop environment, available with no special requirements by virtually any Web application, provides cost savings that companies could only dream about until now. With virtually no deployment cost, combined with the easy to update nature of the
Web application environment, companies can truly reap the benefit of an Internet strategy. Instead of creating specialized application environments, IT staff will simply write to the common browser environment already in place for employees and the majority of customers.
Failing to align business strategy to the Internet will, in the long run, cost companies money and time they will never recover. But done wrong, it will cost even more money and time. Take the time now to determine how best to leverage the new tactics of the Internet. Those who do, will appreciate the investment now, and experience the benefits in years to come.
Kramer, vice president, manages Syntegra’s North American Utility Industry Vertical, concentrating on solutions that maximize interaction value between customers and providers. For more information, visit www.us.syntegra.com/energy, or contact Kramer directly at 651-415-4060 or Matt.Kramer@syntegra.com.