Data Management – A Historical Perspective
It is always interesting to predict the future of technology and data in different ways and from different perspectives to make good decisions. We will therefore define here and present solutions on how Chain-Sys Products and Solutions can fit into an organization’s roadmap. But then prediction is a risky proposition! The best I would try to do is to trace the history of data, applications, and technology over the years since 1959, the year I was born. And I truly believe reading history is the best way to understand the present and predict the future to some extent.
Computers were built using vacuum tubes serving as switches in the fifties and occupied huge rooms, and cooling the heat from the tubes was a great engineering effort. You would have heard stories of how algorithms were run on such computers to crack the code used by the German Army during the second world war. You would have come across Turing Machines, named after Alan Turing, in your fundamentals of computer science courses. So, in the beginning, computers were used to perform computations and repetitive iterations to arrive at answers. Now we use computers to talk, store photos, do video conferences, play games, etc., activities that are far trivial for the wonders that a computer can actually perform.
In the early sixties a very innovative device or switch was discovered in the Bell Labs of the USA. This switch did not have glass enclosures or heated filaments; it was a transistor. This innovation made mainframe computers smaller and available to many organizations. Routine end of day bank postings were done by these machines instead of manual ledger postings. Data in magnetic tapes were crunched and written to other magnetic tapes and to print out voluminous reports. Payrolls were run this way too. In the seventies FORTRAN was the popular language for scientific programs and COBOL was the language for business programs. During this era, airlines were a glitzy and glamorous industry. They put up mainframes and terminals at various agent premises and enabled booking and ticketing. The mainframe also checked in passengers at airports, and allowed gate verification and flight closing.
In the seventies, Texas Instruments was the first to put several transistors, resistors, and capacitors in a single chip of silicon. That was the birth of the Integrated Circuit (IC). Soon, it was the Large Scale Integrated Circuit (LSI) and VLSI in the late seventies that came into existence. The Apollo 11 mission did not use any Integrated Circuits. All its systems consisted of transistor circuits on printed circuit boards. The late seventies saw the introduction of the microprocessor with its assembly language and mnemonics. The big players were Intel and Motorola with their respective 8080 and 6800 processors. These technological advances in processor technology and in magnetic storage technology led to the more widespread use of mainframes. Then there were minicomputers and microcomputers. The microcomputer was later named Personal Computer (PC). The relational database (RDBMS) was developed for computers during this time and this led to real-time transaction processing for businesses, as against batch processing. Thus, a need for a central database in each enterprise was felt.
In the nineties, Oracle and Sybase competed for the database market. Microsoft joined the fray in the 2000s. Towards the end of the Clinton presidency, the Y2K hype was unleashed. Several software companies including IBM made their money fixing the year 2000 bug primarily in COBOL and other legacy programs. The 2000s saw the rise of outsourcing of business processes, especially call centers and back-office work. A lot of outsourcing went to India, among other countries. Local Area Networks, especially from Novell Netware, became popular. The email and Internet (WAN) came into the picture. Until it was only LAN, data security was not a big issue, except for employee discipline. Though initially the Internet was used to share information similar to brochures to anyone who had access to the internet and to send instant emails, pretty soon it was making the reach of any computer application global. Anybody anywhere in the world could access a business application and perform transactions. The travel agencies didn’t need dedicated lines to various airline’s mainframes anymore. They could access the applications using the internet, which became a common/public data highway. The common communication medium also brought in problems such as hacking, viruses, and threat to data security.
The database, especially the RDBMS, put into effect the concept of having data only one place across the enterprise. The importance thus shifted from computing to data. Master and transaction data started to be collected in large volumes and business processes were streamlined. Governments and enterprises, big and small started taking advantage of the database concept, and applications were developed in thousands. Often the programmers specialized in particular languages doubled up as analysts and organized business processes and data. Mr. Hasso Platner (founder of SAP) was writing MRP and other applications for various organizations on IBM mainframes. He was modifying his base code for each enterprise. Soon he developed a configurable program that could be set up for different organizations and thus, the R/3 ERP system was born. Oracle saw the business opportunity and developed Oracle Applications, later christened E-Business Suite.
The big ERP systems were deployed on-premise in big servers for applications, middleware, and database. Business and technical experts were needed in all major companies. Large amounts of data continued to be collected. Salesforce (Oracle had a big stake in it) made the Software as a Service model (later called Cloud Applications) popular and acceptable in the market. CRM was not considered a Core Application and salespeople purchased enormous amounts of Salesforce subscriptions. Now that the market was primed for Cloud Applications, Oracle introduced Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications. Though it was highly successful, Oracle has extended full support for the E-Business Suite R12 version all the way till 2030.
With all the data that has accumulated since the nineties till date, there was a huge potential for monetizing data asset(s), by selling (using) it externally or internally. The industry name for such monetization is Digital Transformation. Let’s explore Digital Transformation in further sections.
Some of the questions that are commonly associated with Digital Transformation are:
- Is Digital Transformation for People or Applications?
- Is a more connected world needed for Digital Transformation?
- Where and how does data come into play?
- What are the basic building blocks for Digital Transformation?
- Is it better to upgrade to Modern Applications or to build new ones?
There is a joke making the rounds, which has a good amount of truth in it. Who brought about digital transformation in our Company? You think it is the CIO, CFO, CTO, or CEO. No, it is the Covid19 virus. Yes, the virus brought collaboration among people onto digital platforms such as chat, video chat, shared documents, and drives. Real organizational Digital Transformation demands more than “collaboration of employees”. It demands “Collaboration and Coexistence of all Business Applications”. It is a connected world after all. Portals-based software (State of the art collaboration between multiple companies, people, and application) are excellent for collaboration and eradication of duplicate efforts. A lot of the tedium can be shifted over to the computer. Nowadays portals need not be confined to suppliers, customers, employee HR, etc. Their power can be massively used to improve productivity by providing portals for each business role, one role at a time. These portals would feed the backbone of ERP systems.
Application to application communication (Master Data and/or Transactional Data) in real-time or batch is very much desirable in any enterprise which uses a multitude of best-of-breed applications.
Born Digital versus Transformed
Many businesses were born “Digital”. For example, Amazon, eBay, Netflix, Roku, Google, Salesforce, PayPal, Expedia, Priceline, etc. They do not have an extensive network of employees to provide products or services to their customers. Most of their products and services are delivered over the web and income is realized electronically in return. Amazon started as an online bookseller. But over the years they converted many of their software processes and internal infrastructure management into saleable products. Many other companies existed long before “Digital” was a popular word. For example, Kelloggs, IBM, GE, Comcast, at&t, John Deere, Fiat Chrysler, Shell, Marriott, and many others. At times, the nature of the products and services they sell, do not allow them to jump into Digital Transformation. They can sell a car online, provide a lot of digital services inside the car, etc., but they have to do a lot of collaborative people teamwork to produce. When they use robots to manufacture their cars, they are doing some Digital Transformation. When they bring all their (most of their) Supply Chain Streamlined into a computerized system, they are undertaking the Digital Transformation journey. Moving tasks from the mechanical and human realms to the computer and digital realms, always provided cost savings, efficiency, and more profits. Compare the cost of making a mechanical grandfather clock vs that of a digital clock. Compare the cost of entertaining a group of people in a theater versus throwing bits and bytes at them through the internet and charging them for a digital movie rented on a streaming site. Storing information (books etc.) is cheaper in electronic format than paper. Digital transformation is not always a formula for success. The customers have to be ready for it.
Digital Transformation is essential to participate and win in the Data-Driven Economy. It was also known some time back by the name “API-driven Economy”, aka “Connected and Communicating Applications”. Data-Driven and API Driven, point to several digital applications and web services complementing each other and contributing to the business objectives. That means they are connected together, they talk to each other, and thrive on inputs from other applications. The synergy generated by the careful orchestration of all Business Applications is very useful and powerful. For example GPS and maps-based computer outputs and displays. They’ve made life easy for the general public and improved productivity in the business world. Another example would be monitoring your fleet of trucks across the country or continent.
Somewhere here we have to realize that “Digital” is just a buzzword to make people buy your stock. It is really the applications that are the stars in this transformation. We have been “Digital” since the mainframes of the 1960s.
When we agree to transform our Applications to participate in the “Data-Driven Economy”, we have to make sure the organizational data is clean, that it has a sufficient record of the past within our organizations, and that we are willing to bring additional insights from vast amounts of sentiments expressed by consumers on social media.
Culture and Leadership
Digital Technology Integration
Digital Transformation should lead to “Operational Excellence” of the Organization and also “Decision Making Excellence”. Do we go on a boating trip without checking the weather app for rain and wind? We don’t. Then why as a business leader, would I be satisfied with minimal data inputs and hunches and gut feelings to make decisions. I should demand high-quality reports and facts in various dimensions.
Know thy data. Big enterprises have evolved over many years and through many acquisitions and mergers. They end up with hundreds of operational and analytics systems and huge amounts of data spread across. It is good to catalog the data and find it when needed.
Know thy Customer better. By knowing all aspects and different facets of the customer from different angles, we will be able to hold a more meaningful conversation with them and generate sales.
Digital Transformation is not about seeking one great and mighty application or building one, but about having a Digital Platform, which is flexible and allows the reuse of the various components. Analogy: Buying a Mattel Toy Car vs buying a Lego set. With the Lego set, you can build a car, which tomorrow you can reassemble into a “crane” or “clock tower”. ChainSys Smart Data Platform is similar to the Lego set. The pieces connect well amongst themselves and APIs of external ERPs/Enterprise Applications.
Schneider Electric reduced from 150 ERP Systems to 12 ERP Systems.
What is good for one industry may not be good for another. For example, Sentiment Analysis by retail giants, fashion boutiques, and designers can fetch immense returns. A software products company may not be able to leverage it, just by the fact that their business is B2B and not B2C.
Infrastructure and Building Blocks
Some of the ingredients to achieve Digital Transformation have been around with us for a long time. Robust and secure networks on the infrastructure side. Protocols to exchange information via Web Services. It is time we cook up something tasty with the ingredients. Put them together to work for our organizations. Chain-Sys has wrapped 1000s of APIs into Web Services, covering Oracle Cloud Applications, Oracle EBS, SAP ECC, SAP S/4HANA, Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, and others. That means you as an IT person can accomplish a lot with drag and drop, no code low code programming.
Moving your hardware and networking infrastructure to the cloud does offer reduced TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) and better network security and frees up your mind to focus on core business issues and problems.
- Typical Applications Scenario: Best-of-breed ERP systems on Premise, on Cloud, or Hybrid.
- Top CRM and HRMS Applications on Cloud, Collaboration, and Productivity Applications from Microsoft, Google, etc.
- In-house legacy systems, our website, social media and online commerce, portals provided by our suppliers and customers, internet sites, and apps we frequently refer to.
Apart from data integrations/data interfacing using templated Web Services from ChainSys, you can also orchestrate BPA (Business Process Automation) using Smart BOTS™. Hey if you find attacking through the backend difficult, attack through the front end. The same idea is used in automated testing.
The challenge is how to make these applications interact, with meaningful human oversight or governance.
One of the ways to quickly harvest the benefits of Digital Transformation, without much sweat and money, is to upgrade to the new offerings of Applications Vendors, preferably on the cloud. ChainSys has the tools to migrate your setups and data to the Cloud Applications. At the same time be aware that Customizations are going to be difficult and expensive in the Cloud environment. (You can check with ChainSys for some tricks to get Customizations to work for you fast and simply.
Digital Transformation is more than implementing or upgrading to a single great Enterprise Software. You need a flexible and easy-to-use Digital Platform, which can make your dream projects come to fruition fast and economically. Such a platform would allow you to use various low code no code features and reuse the components you build (think Lego building blocks). For example, the data quality you build for MDM should be available come time for data migration.
We just cannot get up and say one day, “Let’s buy all the Digital Transformation Software and Tools from Microsoft or Oracle for that matter.” We will end up just as a test and bug reporting center for those companies. We have got to be selective and integrate them well with the existing infrastructure, technology, and people.
As a software provider, ChainSys offers the following: Ready glue adapters between most enterprise applications, batched or real-time data exchange, governance, data quality Improvement, quality data to data lakes, AI/ML algorithms to predict business outcomes, planning engines, ability to visualize data in pleasing charts and diagrams, BOTs to do regression testing, etc. We provide the test recordings for the popular ERPs and BOTs to do Business Process Automation, involving multiple Applications. Basically, get/read data from one application, and load it into another application without human intervention, maybe with some amount of supervision.
Some companies are “Born Digital” and others achieve “Digital Transformation”. ChainSys’ objective is to bring “Digital Transformation” in a very flexible, effective, and cost-conscious manner to all the hard-working and excellent companies of the world.
Happy transformations to you all.
I’d like you in the audience to predict good stuff for humanity and planet earth in the near future and send them to email@example.com. I will select the top three predictions, share them with all and also offer winning prizes.
Here is my prediction: As the pendulum has swung to the extreme end of globalization, data and applications shall drive the world back towards a more sensible, sensitive to the local environment, and personalized experience. The supply chain will adjust accordingly. Customer Experience (CX) will reign supreme. Technologists and programmers will chase away tedium in the workplace and make it more fun using collaborative portal-based applications.
Ganesan is a postgraduate from the Electrical Engineering department of IIT Chennai with his bachelor’s from the Electronics and Communications Department of AC College of Engineering and Technology. He has extensive experience in VLSI design, Software Systems Design, and Development, Project Management, Marketing, and Business Administration, and Contracts. Currently is the Executive Director of Chain-Sys Corporation, USA. Before his current role with Chain-Sys, he was associated with Unisys Corporation, DSRC, Tata Unisys, and Bharat Electronics. Presented a paper on “Test Patterns” at the First International Conference on VLSI Design held in IIT Chennai (1984). He has traveled widely in the USA, India, Canada, Europe, Singapore, and the Middle East. His other interests are Story Telling, Creative Design, Painting, Swimming, Hiking, Canoeing, and Kayaking. He speaks Tamil, English, Hindi, and a little Telugu and Kannada.