Friday, January 30, 2009

“It’s the end of the World as we know it (and I feel fine)” -REM

Every time I turn on the TV news or open an article I’m inundated with bad news about the economy. It’s especially bad up in my neck of the woods, with Wall Street reeling from the cash crunch crisis rippling through all other industries. But it’s not all bad for the IT department in these times. For most businesses when times are bad, re-engineering planning begins in the IT department. Some of the biggest savings opportunities can be realized by the work we do in IT.

Today, an average of only 22% of customer interactions are done online, only 19% by B2B suppliers and a surprising low 33% of employee applications are web enabled. Many savvy businesses are using this recession to invest and re-engineer out of the crisis. I recently read a CIO article that stated - A dollar spent re-engineering now will cost a competitor more than 2 dollars after the recovery, and most competitors won’t have the additional resources or funding to close the gap afterwards.

Every industry and company is trying to do more with less. Many application budgets have been cut, IT spending has been drastically reduced but the work load and business need remains high, so how are IT managers that I speak with dealing with these escalating requests? Most organizations I have work with have an initiative in this year’s departmental plan that make open source a more strategic part of IT planning, and specifically in my meetings I am seeing a strategic shift in utilizing enterprise PHP applications in place of traditional commercial projects.

For the IT department productivity improvements on PHP projects become an immediate priority when staff resources and project timelines are shrinking. This is a good time to re-engineer the PHP development and operations methodologies and embrace enterprise best practices. You can find a lot of great customer case studies about how Zend Framework and products have helped enterprises improve staff productivity by 30% or more. From small business projects to large enterprises like Bell Canada, Fiat, Fox,and IBM ; you can get great ideas of how businesses are using Zend PHP to solve hard problems in these economic times.

Another big part of the re-engineering and modernization plan is utilizing Open Source technology like PHP and the 1000’s of open applications that are available. Success of website ideas like Digg, Wikipedia and Wordpress have equally successful counterparts inside the firewall of corporations, it's just that they are not as public about the details inside the corporation. So let me share a few quick examples of PHP applications that you may already be using and how the enterprise has embraced the same success to re-engineer inside the firewall.

Crowd sourcing became a phenomenon with Wikipedia (a PHP-based site) allowing the general public to keep updating the info in the encyclopedia. The enterprise has adopted this same philosophy but limiting the crowd to inside the firewall, allowing cross-functional and cross-department capturing of business knowledge and process. The success and user momentum of the Wiki was then extended to the corporation using the same PHP application called MediaWiki. Repurposing this new use of the open source project now makes it available for self documentation and self publishing in the office. This is very powerful business continuity and knowledge leveraging between your staff that was never before possible or at least very expensive to replicate. As some corporations downsize and valuable business knowledge has a tendency to easily be lost in these downsizing situations, a central WIKI like service becomes a good way to capture the knowledge of your organization organically. PHP has 100’s of open source applications that offer this type of capability, MediaWiki is best known as it runs the Wikipedia site, but you should research TikiWiki, DekiWiki and others.

Blogging is another one of those PHP applications that is usually introduced early and has immediate impact on the organization. I also include PHP forums in this category as self publishing and commenting improves the communication between managers, large teams and the public. Popular PHP projects include Wordpress, PHPbb, and hundreds of blog extensions to PHP portals.

Talking about portals, PHP has 100’s of portals; it even has a portal that just compares the features of PHP portals because there are so many choices. And as popular as social networking has become on LinkedIn and Facebook there are equally successful counterparts running inside the firewall of corporations. One quick example from a Fortune 100 bank used a PHP portal to brainstorm on ideas amongst employees, think of it as an ever evolving suggestion box that any employee can add his 2cents worth to anyone’s suggestion. This same portal allowed employees to rate documents found internally and on competitors’ website (Digg like ranking of documents and articles used for researching ideas). There’s a section that helps teams take an idea and run with the ball with section manager approval. It includes full online planning, milestones, resource allocation, etc so all your project info is available online at any time. So how valuable would a site like this be to your business if it could help your employees work smarter and offer more competitive solutions when they brainstorm together to improve your internal processes? It’s a re-engineering application on the web isn’t it?

So as I end my first article in the newsletter and my theme song from REM playing in the background, I am excited about all the opportunities in 2009 for IT to again make an impact to the business bottom line. I’m lucky to be here at Zend and learn about many of these types of ideas that make a big impact. But I would enjoy the opportunity to learn more from others and the interesting implementations of PHP applications in your business. How have you used Zend PHP products or frameworks in your business and made a difference in your specific industry? Each month I would like to share as much details as possible about your project ideas to help spur good exchanges in my column, and am always open to collaborations.

Edward Kietlinski
Zend Solution Consultant