Reseller Issues in Open Systems
Helping MIS Manage Data Growth
VARs can help MIS departments handle expanding new kinds of data when
they can't divert in-house expertise and resources.
By Matthew Peterson
Data growth is not only vertical, it is horizontal as well. Today's
MIS manager must be prepared to deal with both kinds. By vertical
data growth, I mean growth in the data that is central to an organization's
core competencies. This data typically relates to financial, manufacturing,
sales and marketing, and other business operations critical to success in
the marketplace. Vertical growth is obvious, because it is growth in existing
data and strains existing systems; but it is not the only data growth challenge
confronting today's enterprises.
Businesses are now scrutinizing every aspect of their operations to ensure
optimal operating efficiencies. As a consequence, MIS managers are being
asked to implement all sorts of specialized systems to create and manage
the kinds of data not currently supported by existing systems. This appearance
of new classes of data alongside the growth in existing classes of data
I refer to as horizontal data growth.
This type of growth creates unusual, difficult challenges for MIS departments.
First, they must meet the challenge of providing their organizations with
the means to productively handle new and substantial kinds of data. Second,
MIS managers must do this without investing in in-house expertise and resources
not critical to their organizations' strategic objectives. They will find
that VARs are good resources for this often contradictory mission.
Let's look at a couple of examples in which VARs can help meet the horizontal
data growth challenges common to many organizations.
Every organization has facilities that constantly change. New facilities
are added, old facilities are dropped and existing facilities are reconfigured.
On one hand, businesses must execute facility changes to remain flexible
in the face of changing business conditions. On the other, it is critical
that these changes be executed with a minimum of cost and disruption. Many
organizations turn to facility management (FM) systems to meet this challenge.
A VAR specializing in this area can be invaluable to the MIS department
chartered with establishing an FM capability. FM systems typically combine
a specialized computer-aided design (CAD) capability with an integrated
database management capability. The designer must answer some key questions
in advance. Does the system need to support simple floor plans, or will
3-D modeling and visualization be required? Must it handle the placement
of utilities such as power and HVAC? How will the FM system tie to existing
asset management systems and data? An experienced FM VAR can help answer
these questions and propose the appropriate hardware and software to meet
the requirements. The VAR also may be able to handle outsourcing of the
entire FM operation or portions of it.
Implementing an FM system requires a significant data-entry effort. Existing
floor plans have to be digitized and loaded into databases. Data integrity
must be ensured, because as designed is rarely the same as as
built or as modified. Most FM VARs are prepared to execute this
initial data-entry operation. As FM data can be substantial, MIS managers
have to decide where to store it. Good networked, multiuser version control
capabilities in many FM software packages open the option of keeping the
data off-site but online. VARs can be a useful resource for this task, too.
Media Asset Management
A second, different area of business also presents opportunity for the qualified
VAR. One of the most explosive areas of data growth is in nonalphanumeric
data formats. These formats can be more difficult and costly to create,
store, transport and manipulate than traditional data elements. Data assets
containing still images, motion images and/or sound formats generally are
called media assets and are pres-ent in many applications within
They may include online or archived digital copies of paper records, training
materials, supporting documentation such as insurance claim photographs,
visual records of corporate assets such as capital equipment, and many other
types of media data. MIS managers will again find specialized VARs to be
a significant resource to call upon to manage the growth of media assets.
The state of the art for media asset management applications varies widely.
Some applications, like business records management, are fairly mature and
well supported by the VAR community. Others, like the on-demand playback
of television-quality video from media servers, are just emerging and are
largely the province of enterprises like broadcasters, for whom this is
a mission-critical application.
When a media asset management application is mature, specialized VARs can
be of tremendous support to an MIS department. They can help MIS sort through
the various media capture options, the competing media data formats, tricky
issues like media data compression, and the many storage and display options.
MIS managers should look for experienced VARs versed in modern MIS disciplines
and technologies, as well as in those related to media assets. Attacking
the problem of corporate media asset management from either a purely traditional
MIS perspective or a purely multimedia perspective is a recipe for failure.
These two examples--facilities management and media asset management--are
different in detail but similar in the ways they present MIS departments
with data growth challenges. First, they offer opportunities for enterprises
to strengthen their operating efficiency and effectiveness, but they usually
are not considered strategic opportunities. Second, they present challenges
that most MIS departments are not well-positioned to handle in-house and
for which it may not be appropriate to maintain staff to do so. Third, they
represent natural opportunities for MIS departments to turn to outside help.
VARs can leverage across multiple clients the specialized expertise and
resources inappropriate to a single MIS department.
In these ways, the data growth crunch clearly leads to the growth of the
partnership between MIS and VAR.
Matthew Peterson is president of Scenic Wonders in Madison,
WI, which provides visual products and services for information highways.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.