Users Say Lack of IT Integration Hurts B2B

They call for software to be tied more tightly to back-end systems for better ROI

NEW YORK—Information technology and e-business managers who attended a conference here in December targeted the lack of a well-integrated technology infrastructure as the chief culprit responsible for many business-to-business projects' failure to deliver the benefits users expected.

An inability to measure the performance of business-to-business applications designed to connect multiple trading partners is also a big factor in the low success rate, according to attendees at the Line56Live e-business conference.

Alayne Gyetvai, chief technology officer at Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc.'s eVentures unit, said many companies have installed too much new software without having a central plan. She said that Cargill and other businesses need to do a better job of optimizing what they have in place and develop capabilities to analyze how the systems work.

Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls Inc. is going even further. John Waraniak, an e-business director at the auto parts maker, said the company is in the process of choosing single application server, systems management and supply chain software vendors to supplant a mix of products that were installed at its facilities in the U.S. and Germany.

In its early e-business efforts, Waraniak said, Johnson Controls failed to achieve the system-to-system automation that executives hoped would make the company more efficient. "And you can't connect to other [companies'] systems until you've got your own in order," Waraniak said.

Areas of Uncertainty

Kerry Schmitt, an analyst at A.T. Kearney Inc. in Chicago, said that about half of 290 e-business executives who participated in a November survey by the consulting firm said they doubt that their IT departments are prepared to deliver on business-to-business projects.

"I think that number shows companies really aren't sure what they need," Schmitt said.

Early e-business projects at Citibank failed to take into account the full cost and complexity of the needed back-end IT integration, said Dominick Cortellessa, global head of e-business at the New York-based financial services firm.

"We haven't had proper testing, and it's caused many [people] to misunderstand the complexity of the integration work," Cortellessa said. That led executives to miscalculate return on investment figures, creating tension between Citibank's business and IT units, he said.

Karenann Terrell, e-business director for product and consumer initiatives at DaimlerChrysler AG in Auburn Hills, Mich., said the automaker is developing an online computer-aided design system that it and its suppliers will use. But the key was linking the design system to other applications using IBM's WebSphere application server and Dallas-based i2 Technologies Inc.'s supply chain management software.

"We have to tie things together so people can know [about design changes] instantly," Terrell said

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