The right technology can encourage strong business growth and cut costs. Here are the applications that are driving innovation:
The current interest in mapping data is unprecedented. Large
consumer-oriented corporations are in the process of buying the
world's largest electronic map makers, Navteq and Tele Atlas.
Communications device maker Nokia is paying 5.7 billion ($9.23
billion) for Navteq, while car navigation specialist TomTom is
spending $US2.77 billion ($3.06 billion) for Tele Atlas.
The sudden interest in spatial data comes from two sources: the rise
of mobile navigation devices with built-in global positioning systems,
such as mobile phones, and the popularity of websites, such as
realestate.com.au - showing consumers the exact geographical location
of a house attracts more people to the site.
Early adopters of mapping technologies include transport companies and
government organisations, which have determined ways to improve
service delivery and save millions of dollars. The Australian Maritime
Safety Authority, for example, reduced the time required to brief
aircraft crews in search and rescue missions from an hour to 15
Retailers are also testing location technologies. Consumers can access
the Yellow Pages on mobile phones and ask it locate the closest
hardware store, for instance. The next step could be for people signed
up to a loyalty program, like the one offered by home-product
specialist Bunnings, to receive a text message alerting them to sales
whenever they go within 200 metres of a Bunnings store.
Handheld devices such as BlackBerrys and those offered by Palm and
i-mate have finally become sufficiently sophisticated and secure for
workers to be connected to corporate systems and information all the
time, almost anywhere in the world.
The productivity gains from having access to data on the run are so
impressive that handheld devices are achieving some of the fastest
return rates of any newly adopted technology. This makes them
attractive to both small and large businesses.
Aerospace giant Boeing conducted an audit that found every single
BlackBerry device distributed to its executives paid for itself within
Software that links handheld communication devices to corporate
systems is available relatively inexpensively - Melbourne developer
repSmart rents software to companies for $65 a month. PFD Food
Services, Australia's largest private food distributor, has 200 mobile
sales representatives using repSmart software. On the data side,
telecom operator Hutchison 3 has been the most aggressive in offering
affordable pricing for mobile data - $40 a month for 3 gigabytes.
Unfortunately, Telstra, which runs the most ubiquitous network,
charges at a premium.
Business process management
Boeing has executed a daring and successful version of business
process management in the design of its new Dreamliner 787 aircraft.
Working with long-time software partner Dassault Systemes, Boeing
shaved a year off development time and an estimated 20 per cent off
production costs by handing over design responsibility to suppliers
scattered around the world, focusing instead on overall integration
and configuration of the aircraft.
This is a huge change in Boeing's production methodology - typically
it would design 70 per cent of an aircraft and only produce 30 per
cent. The shift was necessary, however, to create the most competitive
product. Having global partners work from a single version of
computer-aided design software proved a linchpin in this project. If
someone in Japan made a change to the computer model, a person in the
United States or Europe would see the latest evolution of that design
when they accessed it.
While it was difficult to convince suppliers to change software
versions for uniformity, the wisdom of this decision became apparent
when Boeing's main rival, Airbus, had to delay its next-generation
aircraft, the A380, by two years because of a last-minute wiring
glitch, caused by global design teams working on incompatible versions
of CAD tools.
Business analytics converts vast reservoirs of corporate data -
customer profiles, sales information, stock levels or revenue - into a
comprehensive snapshot that provides a better understanding of how a
business is running. With analytics, the return on investment depends
entirely on how it is employed.
Melbourne toy manufacturer Moose Enterprise is making a substantial
investment in what it refers to as "business intelligence" tools that
help it to make better strategic decisions, more quickly. This is an
example of the broad-brush aim of analytics. However, many
corporations are using analytics to enhance specific business
functions, such as marketing or sales.
To develop higher levels of information about individual customers,
Qantas Airways is working on a project to link customer-service
systems with its reservation and departure software. The idea is to
assign a value to customers based on their travelling patterns so the
airline knows who should have priority for seating upgrades or
Interest in business analytics has generated a flurry of acquisitions
worldwide. United States software giant Oracle acquired business
intelligence specialist Hyperion Solutions for $US3.3 billion ($3.65
billion) this year, and rival SAP is purchasing analytics software
vendor Business Objects for 4.8 billion ($7.8 billion).
Software as a service
Software as a service is having a big effect on the way businesses buy
and use software. Rather than buying licences and the necessary
hardware and software to run and maintain an application in-house,
businesses can outsource their applications, accessing them from a
computer or mobile device connected to the internet.
Businesses pay to use the software, through a subscription fee. The
three main benefits of using SaaS are reduced expenses paid in advance
on hardware and software, no further need for skills to maintain
systems, and much faster deployments.
SaaS has been most popular with customer relationship management
systems, human resources and payroll applications, and an increasing
number of specialised industry-specific applications. The market
leader in SaaS is Salesforce.com, which through its AppExchange
platform has come up with a way for other SaaS developers to create
applications compatible with its CRM system.
SaaS threatens software giants such as Microsoft that have been slow
to adopt the SaaS business model. Google, for example, uses SaaS to
deliver its Docs & Spreadsheets - a web-based integrated word
processing and spreadsheet application that competes with Microsoft's
Search engine optimisation
Natural (or "organic") search engine results provide companies with
substantial traffic without the pay-per-clicks advertising costs that
are associated with sponsored links.
To improve natural search engine rankings, businesses need to engage
in search-engine optimisation, which involves changing a website's
coding and layout, and fixing problems that prevent search engines
from indexing it correctly. It is also important to ensure that it is
understandable to search engine spiders - automated software agents
that seek out content. SEO works best when co-ordinated with a web
development and paid search strategy. Search engines regularly make
changes to their search algorithms, so an external SEO agency, which
follows those changes, is best placed to keep a company's site well
However, some SEO agencies use deceptive methods to try to
artificially boost rankings, such as buying links or what is referred
to as "cloaking" - when one page is created for search engine spiders
and another for users. Penalties for using such tactics are harsh, as
Germany's BMW found out last year when the position of its site was
dropped substantially in Google's index after being caught using
"doorway pages" made to manipulate Google's PageRank system.
Unified communications is the integration of disparate business
communications systems on one platform. This includes the integration
of voice (both fixed phone and mobile), email, instant messaging,
voicemail and desktop applications, along with audio, video and web
conferencing. UC offers the user a more complete and potentially
simpler communications experience. It can give business people more
control over how they communicate and it can create efficiencies.
A cornerstone of UC is "presence" - the ability to know if someone is
available to be contacted before a call is made. This can eliminate
"phone-tag" - the cycle of voicemail messages left to unanswered
calls. Presence can also be linked to the global positioning system to
allow contacts to know the user's whereabouts.
Microsoft is the emerging leader in enterprise UC with a clear
advantage through its dominance of business desktop computing.
Microsoft's strength in applications such as email (Outlook/Exchange)
and its ability to interlace presence, audio and video communications
into applications such as Office has made it the UC platform of choice
for business. Although most communications equipment vendors are
building systems and devices that can integrate with Microsoft's UC
server, other important innovators in UC include Cisco, Nortel, Avaya,
NEC, Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson.
Virtualisation is rapidly becoming a green technology for the computer
industry, one of main consumers of energy. With virtualisation,
organisations can reduce the number of servers they operate while
The earliest forms of virtualisation were in the 1960s when IBM used
virtual-machine software that enabled mainframes to switch between
operating systems. The modern version allows servers to handle a
larger number of applications, thereby increasing the productivity and
management of data.
Technically, virtualisation operates like a virtual machine (VM). In
most computer environments, it means that software written for one
platform can run on another - saving money, providing flexibility and
potentially making operating systems redundant.
A survey by VM provider VMware shows that most large Australian
companies have either installed VM or are in the process of doing so.
VMware Australia and New Zealand managing director Paul Harapin says
91 per cent of the 300 organisations surveyed were familiar with
virtualisation technology and 59 per cent were already using it.
"Availability, flexibility and manageability is what virtualisation is
delivering," Harapin says. It also delivers in terms of reduced
hardware costs, cuts in power and maintenance costs and improved
utilisations of server resources."
Small companies can buy a VM starter licence for about $1500 and large
corporates can pay up to $4000 per site licence.
Radio frequency identification
In the 1980s, "just-in-time" was a revolution in supply chain
management. Now poised to take the process to the next level is radio
frequency identification - an electronic tagging technology using
radio waves that allows an object, place or person to be identified
without direct line of sight.
RFID can be used for keyless entry systems or for security tags on
store products. There are also sporting applications: tags attached to
marathon runners can track them throughout a race and provide accurate
start and finish times.
The best-known use for RFID tagging is in inventory control and
manufacturing processes. Manufacturers and warehousers save time and
money by managing the supply chain with RFID technology. Soft-drink
suppliers, for example, can monitor individual stores by registering a
radio signal each time a soft drink is removed from a refrigerator.
Libraries use RFID applications to track books.
However, despite RFID's obvious benefits and uses, its acceptance has
been slow. A study by consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton indicated
fewer than 30 per cent of government departments have given RFID any
priority in their planning processes. RFID is more popular in the
United States, where its market is estimated to grow to about $US29
billion ($32.14 billion) in 10 years.
Collaboration software helps people work together by sharing
knowledge, learning, building consensus and working towards common
goals. The software enables employees to interact in an electronic
forum rather than just exchange documents.
Types of collaboration software include enterprise wikis (websites
that allow involved parties to add, edit or remove information),
modules in content management systems, conferencing technology and
using a "whiteboard" online. Collaboration software can be run
in-house or delivered over the internet, which can also enable remote
The benefit of collaboration software can be measured by improvement
in productivity and better business results. The software can be used
to store and re-use knowledge, improve work processes and identify new
Using collaborative environments such as wikis at work can also have
the added benefit of enhancing the reputation of employees who
demonstrate their knowledge by contributing to discussions. Some
companies extend their collaboration systems to allow customers to
post questions and search for support.
Enterprise content management companies such as Open Text, EMC, IBM
and Interwoven have collaboration and workflow modules in their
systems. However, collaboration systems standouts are stand-alone
enterprise wiki packages from vendors such as Socialtext, JotSpot and
Atlassian, which was founded in Australia.
© Fairfax Business Media
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