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E-business Architecture 4
Business goals 5
Networked applications 5
Foundation Technologies 8
What's e-business? It is the transformation of every business process through using the internet and associated technologies. In this transformation, each part of the business becomes a part of an intrinsic network, which enables employees, suppliers and customers of a given enterprise to conduct their tasks. People usually try to make a point in differing e-business from e-commence, but as I see, e-commerce is a part of the e-business category, and an important one.
E-commerce can be defined as any business conducted over the internet. We have many examples of businesses, such as Amazon, E-Bay and Yahoo, that have achieved extreme on-line success and Virgin Atlantic is among them.
The are two basic categories of business conducted over the internet, Business-to-Customer (B2C) and Business-to-Business (B2B), and they share one common key aspect - use of Internet technologies to manage all aspects of the business.
In the following pages we will take a look at the steps that must be taken into consideration when developing a successful e-business architecture.
There are many different ways to define an architecture as they can take many forms, including logical views, scenarios (or sequence diagrams), physical views and deployment views. Each view provides a specific type of information within the diagram and is directed to a certain audience, including Web architects, data architects, application architects and end users.
A good, reliable e-business architecture can serve as your platform for future e-business applications. In creating an e-business architecture, you will want to ensure that you are developing and leveraging core components across multiple applications.
An effective e-business architecture should be built after a careful analysis of the way a company does business, for implementing an appropriate architecture is a way to make businesses overall more efficient. When developing an e-business architecture, a company must first take into consideration its current business structure or how they would like this structure to be if it's a new business, and from that point develop an architecture that will take the business to a next level of organization and management.
Before starting any business you should consider its objectives, in order to develop a strategy. It is the strategy that lays out how the objectives will be achieved and determines deadlines for achieving them. If and when the goals are reached the business will be successful.
Virgin Atlantic is UK's second largest major airline; it had its first take-off in 1984 and nowadays has routes leading to the world's major cities, having carried more than 38 million people to this date.
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Their mission statement is "to grow a profitable airline, that people love to fly and where people love to work".
Based on the above, we can consider Virgin Atlantic's objectives as to its new website was to increase online sales activity for travel and holidays, maximize profitability, and enhance customer experience and loyalty.
In order to achieve these goals, Virgin Atlantic architecture was developed exclusively focused on the target on hand, and based on the little information available we will try to analyze it.
An e-business solution comprises more than simply developing a website. Within an organization there are many tasks that should be considered while developing the e-business architecture, such as email, production and supply chain platforms, customer service, databases, office intranet and many others.
These applications that are usually connected to a network and have their main resources shared amongst employees, suppliers and customers. A special emphasis must be given to client/server processing, web-enabled database applications, network object oriented programs, and data warehouses.
Virgin Atlantic has taken an integrated approach; one of their legacy computer systems covering the areas of maintenance, inventory and purchasing was recently replaced with Ultramain, a fully integrated maintenance, materials and procurement system developed by Software Solutions United Ltd (SSU)'. They have also implemented Eland's Runway System' that provides the interface to their legacy bookings system.
To integrate management functions, they have chosen Oracle Financials, Human Resources, Payroll and iLearning modules of Oracle E-Business Suite, which was implemented across its U.K. operations and U.S., Caribbean, Africa, India, and Far East.
Development and Access Tools
Today's market offers a myriad of development and access tools to choose from, it is only a matter of choosing the one that will perfectly meet your business demand, or will be easy to upgrade when time comes.
Three primary design goals must be taken into consideration:
After developing, testing and deploying your website, or B2B/B2C platform, you must control the access to the information. While planning that you have to considers different points one more time, for example, some of your customers system sep up will accept cookies. A good option in this case would be sending the user or simply displaying an information page indicating to the users exactly why the application is unusable, and letting the user decide whether to allow the cookie or not.
Several alternatives are available for controlling access to databases some being:
Using the application server's security functions
Using the database's access control mechanisms
Employing customer developed user profiles
Apart from a vague mention of Java (J2EE) in an internet site, there's very little information about the development and access tools used to development and implement Virgin Atlantic's platform. Follows a definition of J2EE extracted from Sun's FAQs:
The Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) is a set of coordinated specifications and practices that together enable solutions for developing, deploying, and managing multi-tier server-centric applications. Building on the Java 2 Platform, Standard Edition (J2SE), the J2EE platform adds the capabilities necessary to provide a complete, stable, secure, and fast Java platform to the enterprise level. It provides value by significantly reducing the cost and complexity of developing and deploying multi-tier solutions, resulting in services that can be rapidly deployed and easily enhanced.
It's all about information. The internet generation' is being brought up in an environment where access to information is instant and abundant. We must take advantages of that when planning our e-business architecture.
In any business we have different ways to access, handle, save and store information. When planning our e-business architecture we must consider what kind of information will be handled its volume and storage needs in order to create a design that will fit those demands.
Another important point would be the use of their legacy systems. When Virgin Atlantic commissioned its new website, the company hired for the job had to consider how the new technology would be linked to what they had been using in the past. That is when the database middleware comes into action. Considering either the TCP/IP or the OSI standards, the database middleware software sits between the application and transport layers. Its function is to translate the client request from whatever language it is into the legacy program language. In another words, database middleware is a format translator.
Virgin Atlantic's e-business platform handles an enormous amount of information every minute. They have to be able to provide quick and accurate responses to flight and hotel bookings, flight status, update bookings and check in. Cargo status can also be checked by customers. Their loyalty customers can also access and manage their mileage information.
As per explained on the student notes, their website was developed to have the ability to accommodate future changes, so if a route is added the technology can handle the increased customer demand.
There was no information as to how to their database architecture is. However, taking into consideration the size of their business and the fact the other Virgin Group Company might share database information we can assume that they have most likely opted for a number of private data sharing networks data are interconnected.
As we saw above with Ultramain and Eland's Runway systems, they have different sets of solutions covering different needs. Hence, their architecture would display different databases interconnected aiming to providing the fasted and most reliable services in order to meet their company goals.
Large networks serve many users working at a client PC or other desktop device. They may also have hundreds of servers. The e-business architecture must take deeply into account servers, management, and security for site and enterprise networks. Large sites and enterprise networks are very difficult to manage, and critical to maintain.
Large servers holding sensitive information must be highly secure, in order to prevent unauthorized users from accessing the information.
When planning the e-business architecture we must aim for important factors regarding server capabilities:
Load balancing, and
Implementing scalable server technology will allow the enterprise to keep up with user growth. For electronic commerce and other important applications, such as aircraft flow control, servers must be capable of supporting an operation that runs 365x24x7.
Network Management Systems and Protocols
Network Management Systems allow network administrators to manage their entire network from a single network control center at a single site.
Network Management Protocols allow the network management program and the network management agent to exchange information.
Encryption, public key encryption, single key encryption and authentication are mechanisms used to secure a network. We all have this idea in mind that the internet is full of ill-minded people, luring around, trying to steal our virtual valuables. This is true to a certain extent, and to prevent that we need to put certain devices into place.
Information about how Virgin Atlantic's website architecture handles these network and security issues is not available at the moment.
After three weeks of visits to Virgin Atlantic's website, I can conclude that it is a major part of their business. It contains all kinds of information a customer need, from the size of the seat, to meals, baggage, and in-flight health. It also has information for freight customers.
Customers can book flights and hotels, check flight status and even do their own check in. Their Frequent Flyer' section, allows the loyal member to manage everything in the account. They also have a feature that enables non-member to sign up for email updates on special offers and such.
Richard Branson's view of the business comes very clear and we can relate to his passion about his company. Their mission statement and environmental policy are also stated and explained.
The website was designed having in mind the balance of function vs. form'. The fact that there are not heavy graphics or silly animations makes it faster than some of its competitors.
Virgin Atlantic is certainly a company flying towards the future.
Books and Articles
Technology of Internet Business Lawrence, Elaine
John Wiley & Sons Australia, 2001
The E-business Bonus Rendlemen, John
Information Week, 2001
Business Data Communications and Networking Panko, Raymond
Prentice Hall, 1997