Data Administration and the Internet

We are all used to working in an environment of change, but the pace of change in the IT industry today is unprecedented! It affects all areas and in turn – other industries. The catalyst of
this change is the Internet and the new opportunities that it presents. What does this mean to organizations that must still operate in this period of rapid change? How can you plan? What direction
should you take? What technologies and products will survive, and which ones will disappear? And what impact do these changes have on the role of Data Administrator?

In the IT industry our managers look for the next silver bullet to help them overcome the impact of technology change. Does the answer lie with GUIs, or CASE tools, or Open Systems, or Standards,
or High-Speed Networks? Is the answer Client/Server, or Data Warehouse, or BPR, or Repositories, or Business Rules? Or is it O-O (whether O-O analysis, or design or programming – take your choice)?

The answer is all of these … and none of them! There is no silver bullet! For we are now seeing a fundamental change in the rules that we have previously relied upon to plan our future
directions. I refer of course to the Internet.

A Status-Update on the Internet

Consider the changes that the Internet has wrought since early 1995, and particularly in the last few months …

  • Web browsers are now available for any platform and operating system, based on an open architecture interface using HyperText Markup Language (HTML).
  • The release of the Java language by Sun, with Java code (as applets) now able to be automatically downloaded from Web servers to execute on a browser running as a Web client. Java is a
    platform-independent language which is interpreted as byte code by the browser, so providing an open architecture environment for the execution of Java applets (see Figure 1).
  • The growing acceptance by the industry of Java as a mainstream language: not just for applets on web clients but also for web servers, data base servers; and soon also as a complete development
    language in the operating system – coming to Windows, OS/2, Apple Harmony (System 7.5 upgrade with OpenDoc) and Copland (System 8). Many development tools are emerging for Java with
    “just-in-time” compilers to improve execution performance, such as: Borland Latte, Symantec Cafe and Visual Café.

Figure 1: Java applets are compiled to byte code and are referenced by the HTML web pages that use them. Both reside on the web server, ready to be downloaded when requested by a web client. The
Java code is executed as interpreted code on the client, or instead as compiled code using a “just-in-time” compiler operating as the Java byte code is downloaded to the client. (Diagram
© 1996 IDG Communications, Inc from an article in Infoworld.)

  • Microsoft attempted to use their dominant desktop market share to establish Visual Basic (VB) Script as a competitor to Java. A similar attempt was made by Netscape, with their share of the
    browser market, to achieve standardization by the IT industry on Javascript (a subset of Java) in Netscape Navigator 2.0. Both companies have now realized that the impetus behind Java gives them no
    alternative but to provide inter-operability between Java, Javascript and VB Script. This benefits all the industry.
  • Most DBMS products are now moving to use Java and HTML: to accept input as HTML direct from Web forms, then carry out relevant DBMS queries and generate dynamic HTML Web pages to provide output
    in response. DBMS products to provide this capability include: DB2, Oracle, Sybase, SQL Server, DB2, CA-OpenIngres and Informix.
  • Client/Server development tools are also moving to Java, with transparent access to the Internet and corporate Intranets by applications built using these tools: generating dynamic HTML output
    to display transaction results. Vendors are developing new tools to provide this capability, with backward compatibility for applications using their earlier tools. Products include: Powersoft
    Optima++ (with compatibility for Powerbuilder); Centura (previously Gupta – with compatibility for SQLWindows); and Borland Latte (with backward compatibility also for Delphi and C++).
  • Data Warehouse products are emerging with an internet interface, accepting HTML input and generating HTML output. And Data Mining and Screen Scraper tools that provide GUI interfaces for Legacy
    Systems are also becoming internet-aware. Some now accept 3270 I/O data streams and dynamically translate them to, or from, HTML to display on the screen; thus they provide a transparent HTML
    interface for easy migration of 3270 mainframe legacy systems to the Internet and corporate Intranets.
  • The Internet is based on the TCP/IP communications protocol and Domain Naming System (DNS). Novell, Microsoft and other network vendors now realize TCP/IP is also becoming the network protocol
    standard for the corporate Intranet and Dynamic Domain Naming System (DDNS) will be a transparent Internet / Intranet Network Directory Services standard. The communications standards used for the
    Internet thus also will become part of the corporate Intranet. This enables low-cost Virtual Private Networks to be established using the Internet as the backbone, or high bandwidth will continue
    to be provided using dedicated private networks as part of the Intranet.

The pace of change over the last few months, brought about by the Internet, has been unprecedented in our industry. In turn, the Internet and the IT industry are bringing change to many other
industries.

Business Process Reengineering

Consider now BPR and the percentage of BPR projects that have failed: generally acknowledged to be 60% – 70% !!! (Of course, an optimist might say that 30% – 40% have succeeded!). In a previous
article (“Business Re-Engineering: Three Steps to Success” published in the Jan/Feb 1994 issue of the Data Base Newsletter, I discussed some of the reasons for this high failure rate.

Many BPR projects have focused only on processes – ignoring the business plans on which those processes depend, and the business information needed to support decision-making. To re-engineer
business processes no longer required because of changed strategic plans is an exercise in futility! My earlier Newsletter articles discussed that the three steps to BPR success ensured that
Business Processes and Business Information both supported the Business Plans set for the organization (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Business Processes and Business Information must both support the Business Plans that are set for the organization.

Business Re-Engineering (BRE) is a superset of Business Process Reengineering (BPR). It structures Business Plans, Business Information and Business Processes so that they are mutually supportive.
But to achieve this requires a partnership between the Business and Data Administration.

The Role of the Data Administrator

The only thing stable today … is CHANGE itself. Organizations must therefore structure themselves to respond rapidly to change. They must above all change to a market-driven and
customer-driven focus, rather than be organization-driven or product-driven as in the past. New business process opportunities can emerge from this customer-oriented focus, with new processes
crossing previous functional boundaries. These cross-functional processes can lead to dramatic breakthroughs with re-engineered business processes.

But if you have redundant data, you also have redundant processes to maintain each of those redundant data versions up-to-date. When your data is structured non-redundantly, many of these redundant
processes disappear. The way an organization operates when it must keep all of those redundant data versions up-to-date and consistent is quite different from the way it should operate with only
one valid version of data: which, when updated, is available to all who are authorized to access it.

The Data Administrator’s role is vital in achieving integrated, non-redundant data bases that can be shared throughout the enterprise. This in turn leads to simpler business processes, with
re-engineered cross-functional processes that focus on customers – and that can take advantage of the new business opportunities that emerge from a cross-functional emphasis.

Business Re-Engineering and the Internet

What does this mean, when we also consider the Internet? Most DBMS and Client/Server Development tools will interface directly and transparently with the Internet and Intranet. Web browsers, Java,
HTML, the Internet and Intranet all provide an open-architecture interface for most operating system platforms. The previous incompatibilities between operating systems, DBMS products,
client/server products, LANs, WANs and EDI will disappear – replaced by an open architecture environment based on HTML and Java.

The open-architecture environment enjoyed by the audio industry – where any CD or tape will run on any player, which can be connected to any amplifier and speakers – has long been the holy grail of
the IT industry. Finally, once the industry has made the transition over the next few years to the open-architecture environment brought about by Internet and Intranet technologies, we will be
close to achieving that holy grail !!!

The client software will be the web browser, operating as a “fat” client by automatically downloading Java code when needed. Client/server tools will typically offer two options, each able to be
executed by any terminal which can run browsers or HTML-aware code:

  • Transaction processing using client input via web forms, with dynamic HTML web pages presenting output results in a standard web browser format, or
  • Transaction processing using client input via client/server screens, with designed application-specific output screens built by client/server development tools. This optional client environment
    will recognize HTML, dynamically translating and presenting that output using the designed application-specific screens. These client/server development tools will provide transparent access to
    data base servers using HTML-access requests, whether accessing operational data or Data Warehouses. In turn the data base servers will process these requests – transparently using conventional
    languages, or Java, to access new or legacy data bases as relevant. These may be separate servers, or instead may be mainframes executing legacy systems.

Web servers will then operate as application servers, executing Java code or conventional code as part of the middle-tier of three-tier client/server logic distribution, with data base servers also
executing Java code or conventional code as the third logic tier.

So What of the Future?

Development will be easier: many of the incompatibilities we previously had to deal with will be a thing of the past. Open architecture development using the technologies of the Internet will also
be part of the Intranet: able to use any PC and any hardware, operating system, DBMS, network, client/server tool or Data Warehouse. This will be the direction that the IT industry will take for
the foreseeable future.

New reengineering opportunities will emerge from immediate access to customers and suppliers via the Internet. But this also means that the chaos of redundant data that exists in most
enterprises … will now be visible to the world!
This will be apparent from the front window of each organization’s web site. Not by what can be done, but rather by what they cannot do
when compared with their competitors.

So how should your organization operate when your customers have immediate access with the click of a mouse to you … and to your competitors? If your organization cannot meet the needs of
those customers, they will leave you just as fast – also with a click of a mouse … and go to your competitors!

Hardware, software, networks and the IT industry are all rushing to embrace the Internet and Intranets. What is the next silver bullet? Is it an: Object-Oriented, BPR, Open, CASE, GUI, Client /
Server, Repository of Networked Business Rules Data Warehouse ???

Or is the next silver bullet Data Administration? If so, we had better start getting our organizational house in order NOW !!! The role of Data Administration has never been so important for
success in business as it will be in the coming competitive Armageddon.

Clive Finkelstein is the “Father” of Information Engineering (IE), developed by him from 1976. He is an International Consultant and Instructor, and Chief Scientist of Visible Systems
Corporation in the USA. He is the Managing Director of Information Engineering Services Pty Ltd (IES) in Australia and of Visible Systems Australia Pty Ltd.

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About Clive Finkelstein

Clive is acknowledged worldwide as the "father" of information engineering, and is Managing Director of Information Engineering Services Pty Ltd in  Australia. He has more than 45 years of experience in the computer industry. Author of many books and papers, his latest book,  Enterprise Architecture for Integration: Rapid Delivery Methods and Technologies,  brings together the methods and technologies for rapid delivery of enterprise architecture in 3-month increments. Read the book review at http://www.ies.aust.com/ten/ten32.htm. Project references, project steps and descriptions are available from   http://www.ies.aust.com. Click on the  Projects link from any page. Clive may be contacted at cfink@ies.aust.com.

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