The key point I wanted to start off with is I think it’s time for everybody in this room who’s running a company to think of technology a bit differently. There are changes that we see happening in three or four years, and we’re all going to have to prepare for them. Technology is going to be an important part of it. No. 1, there are demands for transparency in terms of how we do business, how we make decisions, how we document our processes to sort all the entries, and these requirements have drastically changed in the last three years, for obvious reasons. So the ability to comply with that, to answer to investors—not just public investors, but private investors who are going to ask these same questions and hold us to the same standards—is going to require systems that document exactly how you make decisions and track what you do.
We also are going to see a change in the amount of information [and] the type of information you’re going to have to provide. Let me just hit on two or three points. This will give you some hint of the magnitude of what’s about to come. Supply-chain partners have been around for the last 15 years or so. They have been exchanging information and transactions in the technology sector for years. That’s kind of mundane today, but that’s about to change. The amount of information we’re going to exchange is going to dramatically increase. You’ll be able to describe a lot more about those transactions and they’ll be a lot larger. We’re going to send you an entire manual electronically and tell you what to do with that manual, so your systems are going to have to be a lot more robust.
But there are things more interesting than that that are about to happen as well. There’s a whole category called data broadcasting that you need to be aware of. What’s that? Well, there are new technologies like RFID [Radio Frequency Identification] that are basically small devices, microscopic, that can be implanted into any product, and they will broadcast information about that product 24 hours a day: where it is, where it’s moving to, where it’s been, who owns it, where it should be. Many companies will be required to have this in order to do business with those large companies. It’s a big opportunity. It’s a big risk because we’re not ready for it. But most current systems will have to be updated in some way.
The amount of collaboration between companies will increase. We’ve seen a shift to virtual companies. You don’t have to do everything yourself any more, so people are outsourcing functions, whether it’s manufacturing or services, and multiple companies collaborate with supply chains. Well, they have to share data to do that. They’d have to duplicate that data across an entire chain.
There are about 10 other things I could go through like that that are equally important. The key to them all is that the amount of information you have within your store about your company is about to escalate—just multiply it by about a hundred in the next few years. So, if I had a few things to leave for you as you think about technology going forward, it would be these.
First, you have to think about it as business people. If I’m trying to make a decision on technology, the most important thing is no fragmented data. If you have data, it should be applicable to all your applications at once, whether it’s sales or service or supply chain. It should be in one place so you can all reach it.
Second, no fragmented systems. If the other guy has multiple systems for sales or various service functions, don’t buy it case by case. Look at it as a complete system.
Third, avoid customizing where possible, because if you start making changes to the software it becomes nonstandard, and most of those changes really don’t need to be made in this day and age.
The fourth point is building the architecture and keeping it simple. You have to plan these systems over time. You can’t build that bridge by showing up with different parts from different companies.
And last we plan on its being real-time. Systems that can’t give you data instantly will be obsolete a couple of years from now. Business is going to real-time and your customers will expect that. Your trading partners are going to expect that. So I think that’s the direction the industry is taking.
Charles Phillips is president of Oracle Corp., the world’s second largest software company. The above is an excerpt from his keynote speech at the 2004 Annual Convention of the National Black Chambers of Commerce.
By Charles Phillips