What’s in a word? PDM’s editor Neil McNaughton ponders over a definition of ‘e-business’ and identifies some early successes. What technology makes up a real E business. Does it have to be XML? Or can FTP qualify? What differentiates the real e-businesses from the ‘wannab“E”s’?

An old theme of these columns is the notion that, for an IT project to have a cat in hells chance of succeeding, it needs to be specified with clarity and without ambiguity. This is why IT terminology is so precise. Such that when I say ‘business object,’ my intent is so limpid that you could just sit down at your computer and build a few without further instruction. Well, no of course you can’t and I apologize for the heavy irony. What I mean is that IT’s very terminology often undermines attempts at clarity as words are used, misused, translated and redeployed in a different context. In so far as technology does progress (which it does, but much more slowly than we like to think), verbal evolution is natural, even if it is hard sometimes to keep up with the latest jargon. But often, the words get ahead of the technology and move out into - well ‘Hype’erspace as it were. The terminology races ahead, and covers up a technological stasis.

CRMs of consolation

I think I have stumbled on a good example of this. Like me you may have puzzled at a new acronym ‘CRM’ - which being expanded, means Customer Relationship Management. What trendy new technology does this term entail? Well actually nothing very much. CRM is just a fancy way of describing the activity of the sales department, boosted by on-line databases and embellished with an (infuriating) automated response system. CRM is a verbal Trojan horse for vendors to rush new software into the corporation. Words can be old wine in new bottles or harbingers of something new. So what of “e”-buiness, “e”-commerce and the like? Which camp are these concepts in - and just what do they mean anyhow? First, let’s try to constrain “e-business” a little. I will just pluck a definition out of thin air here....


Or rather from www.askjeeves.com where there are quite a few definitions, but most seem to agree that e-business centers on “using the internet to do business better or differently.” It is thus quite puzzling that although the internet has been in operation since the early 1970s, e-business as a term has only been around for a couple of years at the most! So is it a new concept - or more hype? Did it really take a decade or more for ‘business’ to realize the benefits of the internet? Of course not. Oil and gas companies have been using internet technology for over a decade to transfer data internally. And E&P e-business to business can be said to have started when the switch was thrown on the Norwegian Diskos project, back in March 1995. Incidentally, Diskos planning began in 1992 so it could be considered to have an 8 year lead on some of the e-upstarts of today.


Here at The Data Room, albeit on a much more modest level, we have been doing e-business since 1996. We perform QC on large seismic tape remastering projects by analyzing the log files generated during transcription. A few gigabytes of email traffic over the past four years bear witness to the “E” nature of this business. Some much higher tech e-business - such as Application Service Provision is in reality e-business as usual for GeoQuest, which has been providing ASP-type services to BP Aberdeen and others for several years now.

Caveat “E”mptor

So what is new in e-business? Well one thing that is new is the arrival of a lot of companies who, in true dot com fashion, have all their future before them. Companies whose business model is basically - ‘give us your business.’ Recently in the Wall Street Journal I read of one floundering dot com that complained that they had not sold out early enough. Wow, what an admission! This really is the old ‘eating sardines vs. selling sardines’ distinction! The business plan for some of these ‘wannab“E”s’ doesn’t seem to go beyond a successful IPO.


But just going back to the established, old-guard e-business Diskos. The technology behind Diskos was originally developed by IBM and was the first commercial deployment of POSC’s Epicentre data model. Of course one can argue about how much of Epicentre is in PetroBank, and whether a data model is a necessity for e-commerce, particularly as the main data transferred is SEG-Y seismic over FTP. But with this background, it is a wonder that everyone is plugging away quite so heavily at XML. As though it were the sine qua non of e-business! What really matters in business, whether its “E” or not, is the process not the technology. It is just much harder to do the process than the technology. There is also less whiz-bang, hype and potential for immediate gain, real or imagined.

Déjà vu

The Norwegians were unusually absent from the POSC 10 year party. Do they know something we don’t? I wonder what the Norwegian is for déjà vu?

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