Members Define Reengineering, Ask for New Products

Connectivity, system management, interoperability high on list

When open systems professionals think of reengineering, they think mainly of two essential things: revamping their information system and thereby improving their company.

Behind those two basic concepts lies a panorama of ideas about what the specific objectives should be and how to achieve them - all revealed in a survey conducted by UniForum of its members earlier this year. Revamping itself is an encompassing term to describe several kinds of processes mentioned by Uniforum members, all beginning with the prefix re-:

  • Revisit. Reengineering means "to revisit a procedure, workflow or events within an organization's structure and redesign with a fresh outlook," said Kurt Vanderbogart of Menlo Park, CA. "Many organizations have tried to re-engineer and many have failed."

  • Rethink, replan and rebuild your direction, says Geoff Bullen of Chatswood, Australia. That means "taking a look at what you have and deciding that major changes are needed to take the business to the next generation."

  • Redesign. "Reengineering is a complete redesign of a process or system," said Steve Hathaway, of Salem, OR.

  • Restructure, said Don Hansen, of Omaha, NE, meaning to restructure a process or processes, agreeing with Hathaway. "Those processes can involve the changing of computer hardware, software, training or organization. Our company has just done this. We have restructured our manufacturing, sales, engineering and more."

  • Rework your processes, said Roger Gourd, of Cambridge, MA. "Re-engineering means looking not at what you do, but at how you do it," he said. "It's not just automating existing processes - it's reworking those processes, often by incorporating new information technology."

  • Reimplement. Reengineering means "specifying the functional requirements of an existing system that may have no written spec and then reimplementing it using new technology," said Margie Templeton. And in the same vein, Matt "C.P." Rush, of Chico, CA, said he considers the term to mean "taking a finished product as a goal and then designing and implementing it from scratch, disregarding previous notions of how or why things were done in the original."

  • Redeploy. David Markowitz, of San Jose, CA, defines reengineering simply as "redeployment of business systems or processes to improve efficiencies and more closely model workflow."

  • Replace your functional system with a new design, "providing new features or capabilities, without making the features of the previous system unavailable" and you have re-engineered, said Robert A. Michael, of Santa Cruz, CA. "An example would include the replacement of stand-alone cash registers, paper inventory/parts lookup systems and inventory replenishment with networked point-of-sale cash registers using scanners, a back-office inventory database, a service counter with parts lookup, inventory check screens and special order capability and a WAN connection to a central ordering facility for automated inventory replenishment," he explained.

    The Results

    You reengineer for results. According to members, those results may include:

  • Reduced costs and improved profitability. "The bottom line is to be more profitable, just as it is for other companies," said Don Hansen. It "allows the company to dispose of legacy processes that have become cumbersome and extremely costly to maintain," Hathaway said. Doing that improves efficiency, he and Markowitz noted.

  • Better control over processes. In reengineering, "MIS tries to regain control over systems development," said David Sherr, of New York City. "It implies control over the extant system and control over the architecture and construction of the new system."

  • Improved openness and longevity of the resulting system. A reengineering exercise "normally involves moving away from proprietary environments to a more open one that will last longer," Bullen said.

  • An improvement in the technology of the system or the technical offerings of the company, or both. When a company re-engineers, it "has had to radically alter its technical offerings or its market approach or both in order to survive," said Nik Simpson, Huntsville, AL. "If this is a correct definition, then pretty much all of the major vendors are in the middle of this process and it is too early to say who the survivors will be."

  • The new features for a functional system that Robert Michael spoke of.

  • The improved customer service and satisfaction that result from those better features.

  • Improved competitiveness. "I'd define reengineering as doing whatever it takes to be competitive in the marketplace, even if it means tossing out conventional ideas," said Jefferey M. Stockett, Austin, TX. "The computer business in general gets more varied every day. Making wrong decisions and sticking with them just because Ôthat was what we decided' is more costly than ever." Stockett adds, "I can't think of any company that is doing this except maybe Microsoft. They continually outstrip all their competition at reengineering their perception in the marketplace as No. 1."

    Products Wanted

    UniForum members who responded to the survey also let their opinions be known on the subject of what kinds of new products they hope for in the coming year. Although the question included a chance to mention favorite products from 1993, nearly all the responses discussed only hopes for the future.

    Connectivity and network/internetwork-related products topped the list of hoped-for offerings this year, followed closely by system management products, the area of interoperability and development of a common API for UNIX software.

    "Connectivity is the key," said Daniel Wexler, Brooklyn, NY. "Anything that helps promote connectivity between users, processes, machines and networks can be used to implement client solutions." Matt Rush, Robert Michael and Steve Hathaway all asked for better products to allow Internet connectivity. Hathaway asked for "networking products that are compatible with the newer and bigger addressing requirements of the future Internet" as well as products to aid the connectivity of TCP/IP and OSI applications. "There is a very large need and market for Internet connectivity providers," Rush said, meaning lower-cost continuous Internet connections via modem instead of leased lines. Michael asked for "service products that bring Internet access to nontechnical users."

    System management was the first request of Geoff Bullen, who asked specifically for "management of computing environments from the enterprise down." Don Hansen agreed that "managing the enterprise centrally is very important." Kurt Vanderbogart asked for "distributed management that works with different vendors' hardware."

    The interoperability area is important for Dion Johnson, Scotts Valley, CA. "We need interoperability that is bulletproof and spans all major vendor systems," Johnson said. "UNIX must manage and be managed at every level. It must have tools to ship data and code between systems with a high degree of automation."

    For others, a common API for application developers was uppermost in their minds. "The only hope for UNIX in '94 and beyond is a single, complete and robust standard API for application developers," said Nik Simpson. "Without that, UNIX will become increasingly unpopular with commercial software vendors who have to support multiple platforms." Bullen also requested "standardization in cross-platform development work" as one of the most important needs of 1994.

    Other highly requested items included cheaper UNIX products or product discounts and standardization in multimedia products.