Microsoft Networking. This is a complex architecture which will require considerable skill to administer. It is not just WINS and DHCP, is it the whole direction towards Internet connectivity. WAN configuration and NT domain administration is going to be a big job in the next few years, especially as large customers are starting to deploy this technology.
Novell NetWare. Although a fine product for its day, it is now in an evolutionary stasis. It was only with release 4 of the software that native support for TCP/IP was provided. Since IPX/SPX does not lend itself well to routing, NetWare is really only appropriate for a flat (bridged) network. A flat network will experience severe limits to growth.
MCSE. If Microsoft is going to win the server war then this is the certification to pursue. As previously mentioned, we're going to see a lot of NT deployment over the next couple of years and having this certification could mean big bucks. Even if you only consult, setting up a system for a customer for example, having those letters after your name is going to mean a lot.
CNE. Companies are just not installing NetWare anymore. Against the Microsoft onslaught, and using old technology, Novell is just not going to win the server war. They can't compete with all the features included in a product like NT Server. Spending time and money going after an out-dated certification is imprudent at best.
Java. Even with the few minor bugs found so far, this is a language which was very intelligently designed. Capable of being used for full-blown applications as well as applets and servlets, it is a language which forces the programmer to use the object paradigm; a language like C++ lets you fall back on C language constructs as a crutch.
The vision of the Sun development team is to be commended for this language. Having the foresight to include hooks for a security manager is brilliant. Note that even Microsoft is now providing Java tools these days; if it really was a dead horse then why would they be doing this?
Of course, it has recently become apparent that Microsoft is attempting to highjack the language for their own purposes. Now there is even talk of ceasing support for Java in future versions of Internet Explorer. It would seem that a platform independent language would interfere with Microsoft's plan for world domination! This is a most disappointing development, but somehow unsurprising. If you don't believe me, click here to read another view.
ActiveX and OLE2. Anyone who has seen the full specification for this behemoth will recognize it as a nasty piece of business. It looks as though it was designed by committee, what with all the interfaces and methods. It has already been used to breach security and I don't expect that situation to change. Although I'm not suggesting ignoring this technology, I couldn't recommend expending time, money and effort learning it in any great detail.
Just so you know that I'm not the only one who feels this way, here's a comment from another observer. "Caution: Developers who commit exclusively to ActiveX -- buying into today's Microsoft "take Java with a grain of salt" message -- will be left behind." The Forrester Report, Software Strategies, Volume Eight, Number One, April 1, 1997, Eric G. Brown, Stan Dolberg, Machael Mavretic, Craig Massey, and Jesse Johnson.Stop the presses! Click here for information on the latest ActiveX security bug. The article also echoes my sentiment about the relative security of ActiveX vs. Java and mentions the Java security model.
Someone said something to me the other day that made me stop and think about this whole Internet thing. Three short years ago, PC banking was a novelty. For some of us, myself included, it is now an essential part of our lives. I couldn't even imagine going back to paying my bills, one at a time, at the ATM. It's amazing how quickly technology is changing, which means ever-increasing pressure on the practitioners to keep up. I'll be adding more documents here soon on some of the newer technologies on the horizon and how they're going to fit into "the big picture" (see the outstanding movie "Creator" starring Peter O'Toole.) The statement which led to these thoughts was "if a company doesn't have a web page, I don't take them seriously." Think about it! Some of us have become so familiar with conducting all manner of business over the Internet that we're surprised when a company doesn't have a web page! Companies large and small are going to have to recognize this and ensure that they have at least a minimal web presence, including e-mail capability. Trust me on this one: e-commerce in the next few years is going to be absolutely HUGE!
Large players are already starting to stake out their place in the e-commerce market. IBM correctly read the cards and has been able to position themselves as the ultimate e-commerce company. Since IBM has been performing transaction processing for decades, they are leveraging that experience to address the new markets. It's not just e-commerce either; IBM doubled sales of AS/400s last year, largely on their positioning as a web server for small- and medium-size companies. Northern Telecom (now Nortel Networks) has also identified the e-commerce market as one which will provide great opportunities over the next few years. Estimates of the total value of e-commerce tend to vary widely, but there's no mistaking that this is an area which holds enormous potential in the short and long terms. (Year 2000 e-commerce value estimates: IDC USB$25, Forrester USB$200, Killen USB$300, Alex Brown USB$27, where USB is billions of US dollars.)
Problem Management Systems.
This is an area which has the potential to improve customer relations while at the same time reducing overhead. Too many times we have customers calling the customer support group to either enter a problem record or check on its status. What if they were able to do it all themselves, on-line? That what products like Remedy's ARWeb address. The Remedy Action Request System (ARS) has always been a good program for problem management, integrating nicely with products such as HP's OpenView. It also supports customizable pop-ups with incident-specified references (names, telephone numbers) as well as pager support. Automatic escalation of trouble tickets after a specified interval at a certain level is part and parcel of the package.
So what does this mean to the customer? Firstly, products such as Remedy ARS allow you to build a "knowledge base" of problems and their resolutions. While not every problem would necessarily qualify for inclusion in this information base, most of the commonly experienced problems would surely end up here. Before entering a new trouble ticket a customer could search the knowledge base to determine if the problem had previously been addressed. It's possible, with a well managed process for inserting fully-document problems and solutions into the knowledge base, to address almost 50% of customer difficulties. Customers are happy that they've been able to solve their problem, and they've not had to wait to either get their telephone call answered or their problem resolved. If a customer can see a clearly worded problem solution from their desktop browser, and can follow along with the prescribed steps to affect resolution, they can be operational much faster than if they were to go through manual trouble ticket procedures.
Now what about those customers who can't find a solution in the knowledge base? They can enter a ticket interactively, using their browser once again, and can give the problem a priority. Some people assume that if you permit the customer to set the level of severity of their own trouble tickets that they will always specify the very highest level. In fact, this tends not to be the case, save for type A personalities who believe that the world revolves around them. Most people are quite reasonable, and will honestly reflect the severity of the problem. Since automatic problem escalation is inherent to these products, customers can be confident that a problem entered at level 3, for instance, is going to be addressed within the windows defined by the service organization. Similarly, they are also free to monitor the status of their open tickets, knowing who has been addressing their problem and when.
I believe that most people would be able to see that a problem management system like this could significantly enhance the provisioning of customer service. The number of "first-level" operators could be reduced while the number of "second-level" staff could be increased. Since the first-level operators typically perform a simple database search anyway, resources can be deployed to those areas requiring greater technical skill in order to better satisfy customer inquiries. It's interesting that this development coincides with the increasing deployment of e-commerce applications. In some ways they address different facets of the same issue. Imagine that a customer has ordered goods on-line; it's been a week and he hasn't received his shipment. If he can check the status of his order on-line, and perhaps be offered the option to cancel it if the goods have been back-ordered, then he won't have to call the customer support office. The customer is happier and the organization has cut cost by eliminating an expensive (to the recipient) "toll-free" call. I believe that this is another area which is going to experience significant growth.
Copyright (c) 1999, 2000 by Phil Selby