Over the past two years, network computing has driven major hardware manufacturers and software companies into rapid development of new products to meet anticipated demand. The debate has moved from 'should I deploy PCs or NCs on the desktop?' to 'what systems do I need to support my business processes?'
Network computing is not just about deployment of personal productivity applications, but the delivery of the business applications that users need. There have been two major developments that make thin clients a practical proposition for widespread deployment.
The first is the improvement of thin client devices and client software and tools. The second is the arrival of internet-enabled enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, such as recent releases of SAP R/3 and Oracle Applications.
Most businesses have similar processes and departmental functions. For example, many companies have people performing different tasks simultaneously.
A company's accounts department could spend 75 per cent of its time working with a core business system like SAP R/3, 20 per cent creating and using numerical spreadsheets, and the rest using other tools such as wordprocessors or email.
At the other end of the scale, the marketing team may be heavily dependent on graphics applications, DTP and personal productivity applications, and have little dependency on the SAP system. There will also be a number of individuals who will need constant access to everything.
The model of a PC for everyone may be questionable in a situation like this, so the company needs to examine all available options for desktop deployment. This is typical of most companies. What really drives a business forward is the process of continually reviewing and updating systems to help achieve competitive advantage.
Ordinarily, one would examine the business processes, then the functionality required, and finally the technical infrastructure. However, new enabling technologies such as network computing can, in themselves, spark a review of business processes. The adoption of ERP applications to support the business is a key factor in determining how far an organisation might go towards a network computing environment.
In February, Morse undertook a countrywide survey of 245 IT managers and directors from some of the UK's top companies. The findings presented a clear signal that UK companies are ready to embrace thin client strategies and deploy network computers. About 93 per cent indicated they were planning to implement network computing within their organisation. Of those
planning to implement thin client technology, 52 per cent expected their projects to be completed within the next 12 months.
The results of the survey indicate that the availability of ERP applications will trigger demand for network computers as companies look to gain commercial advantage by consolidating their information systems to improve access to business data.
Many of these applications are available today and yet our findings show that customers have been holding back from widespread deployment of thin client technology, such as network computers, due to a lack of business applications available for these environments.
Clearly, the delivery of thin client infrastructures presents a significant business opportunity to the channel. But there is an urgent need for software companies in this area to address misconceptions within the market for customer demand to grow.
Mark Byatt is director of marketing at Morse.
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