The business case for Java: A primer for geeks, Part 1

Why a strategic move to Java makes good business sense

If you're going to convince your managers to use Java, you need to learn to speak their language. Not all developers have the privilege of working for technologically knowledgeable managers. As a result, you must master some business-speak to communicate effectively. You must recognize that some managers are driven by factors beyond technical elegance, and will tend to focus on more mundane matters. Two words will drive the first part of your discussion with such managers: cost and strategy. Indeed, in one way or another, managers are by definition keen on cost reduction and control. Presenting Java from a cost/benefit perspective to your manager is therefore one reasonable approach. Fit such information into the context of the other strategic pressures your manager faces, and explain how Java relates, and you may be well on your way to its successful adoption.

Business (strategic) challenges for today's managers

I had the privilege of hearing Mike Hammer speak at a Planet Tivoli conference in Nashville, Tenn., last year. Considered by many to be an expert on modern business thinking, he presented three simple observations that characterize the Internet-based business environment in which today's managers work:

  • Customers rule: Never before in the history of business have customers had so much power. With companies now capable of marketing to individuals, mass customization is a practical reality. Any business that doesn't understand and respect the driving force of personalized service to customers in the emerging competitive landscape will inevitably lose.

  • Competition intensifies: Competition, for all practical purposes, is now global. Those who can serve customers best, at the lowest cost, will win, regardless of national boundaries, corporate affiliations, or trade histories.

  • Change accelerates: Moore's Law doesn't just affect processor capabilities. You can also observe similar growth acceleration in global telecommunication bandwidth and in the amount of knowledge (or data) available in the world. Smaller, faster, and cheaper processors, coupled with wider, wireless data-exchange pipes and automated service-driven information networks, are constantly changing everything. It is said that the only constant is change. But in the 21st century, even change is not constant; it is accelerating.

To Dr. Hammer's list of acute pressures, I would add the following:

  • We live on Internet time: You must not only provide products and services of extremely high quality that easily engage your customers and partners, but you must do so quickly and with the leanest organization possible. The race to get your product to market first is everything, especially when markets can be influenced as quickly as memes can spread, which, in the 21st century, is the speed of light. (A meme is a cognitive information structure that can replicate using human hosts and influence the behavior of those hosts to promote replication. See the Resources section below for more details).

  • Joy's Law: Bill Joy, a founder of Sun Microsystems, is credited with this apt observation: "Most of the bright people don't work for you -- no matter who you are. You need a strategy for innovation occurring elsewhere." This is especially true in the 21st century, because in the information economy, knowledge and intelligence are the coin of the realm.

These simple observations give rise to certain inescapable implications for the modern enterprise. Factors that may once have been viewed as differentiators -- criteria that distinguish products from each other in the marketplace -- must now be viewed as hygienic -- that is, they must be present in order for your product to compete in today's market. Again, summarizing Hammer, the new hygienic imperatives for the modern enterprise are:

  • Value time divided by elapsed time approaches one: There is no room in the modern enterprise for time (or resources) spent not adding value. Any firm spending time engaged in non-value-added activities will soon find itself at a competitive disadvantage in a global economy. The firm must eliminate these activities if it expects to survive.

  • 6 Sigma -- Extremely high quality: Several years ago, Motorola instituted a radical overhaul of its quality-control program, with the goal of reducing its defects by six standard deviations. Known as 6 Sigma (the Greek letter sigma being the symbol for a standard deviation), the program has become a model for other companies in a variety of industries. Such a radical overhaul of quality control is now a necessity rather than a luxury; if a firm does not have virtually flawless quality systems, programs, and business processes, it will not survive in the global economy.

  • ETDBW -- Easy to do business with: Customers will not tolerate a firm that makes it difficult to purchase, pay, or partner. With the growth of ecommerce, competition is just two clicks away. This abbreviation for the new century implies that a lot of thought should go into Internet portals -- as well as the strategic business processes behind those portals.

Strategic management implications

Because of the competitive advantages that firms gain when they embrace Internet technology, the imperatives listed above articulate the competitive challenges all businesses today must face, regardless of industry. Any prudent manager will recognize these factors and plan accordingly.

What are the implications for your manager? First, any investment in information technology must be viewed as strategic; in other words, approaches to software development that merely attempt to mask outdated business processes do not represent a wise long-term strategy. Second, the interfaces we expose to the world must be standard. Today's competitor may very well be tomorrow's strategic acquisition. In order to remain nimble, standards-based IT interfaces are the only choice for the prudent manager. And third, costs must be kept to a minimum. This includes research and development costs as much as it does training and support costs.

All these factors point to Java when it comes to choosing a world-class development/deployment platform. There is no other competitive platform that has the breadth, the industry-wide investment, or the momentum of Java, which means it is a sound, strategic, future-proof investment. Standard on a wide range of processors, operating systems, and devices, Java's smart-card-to-supercomputer breadth of coverage is unsurpassed in platform history. And since Java is a single development environment, all developer resources can take advantage of the same core set of tools and training material, thus keeping precious brainpower investments focused at maximum efficiency.

Figure 1. On target with Java

Let's consider lowered costs a bit more. Since there is an inverse relationship between cost and productivity, it stands to reason that lower costs will give rise to greater productivity. Now, don't confuse production with productivity. Naturally, some production activities must take place; something must be produced, after all. Mathematically speaking, though, it can be said there is an inverse relationship between production (i.e., research and development) costs and productivity. Zero cost and infinite productivity are the asymptotes that we'll approach simultaneously. Increasing productivity has been the earmark of virtually all successful firms in recent years. In order to survive, then, all firms must compete by either brutally lowering costs or finding startling new ways to engage customer focus, or both.

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