Microsoft's .NET initiative brings cultural as well as technical changes. Once, simply understanding how systems worked and interacted with one another was enough to keep your users connected and running and meant you were doing a good job. But as IT has become more mainstream in the business world, your users have become customers, and their satisfaction with the service you offer has become a key element of your job. You've had to develop sound interpersonal skills along with technical expertise. Now, with .NET services, you need to develop excellent business management skills if you plan to fully leverage the .NET technologies and business strategies.
A Shift in Emphasis
If you're thinking, "This isn't new," you're right—at least to a certain extent. Successful IT departments understand how the IT process fits in the overall corporate business process, from keeping knowledge workers productive with minimal intrusion from IT to keeping line of business (LOB) applications running. To be successful, IT administrators must have a thorough understanding of all the business processes and corporate goals that their department affects. But .NET makes that understanding only a minimal requirement for deployment and implementation.
Behind this shift in emphasis lies the concept of deployable services. Part of the .NET goal is to let users contract with companies that offer specific services (e.g., transaction processing) and integrate those services into their own .NET deployments. Doing so can help reduce the amount of effort necessary to develop large-scale business applications, but taking advantage of deployable services also increases dependency on reliable connectivity and effective business-to-business (B2B) relationships.
Reliable connectivity is important to the future of .NET distributed applications. If your business model requires integrating external system resources, you must have reliable connectivity to those resources. Such connectivity requires redundant connectivity options, possibly through multiple Internet providers. If your .NET application is an e-commerce application that an external provider hosts, you'll need to detail connectivity options in your service and support contracts. But if you're building internal .NET applications and plan to use external services, you must solve connectivity problems yourself. And these problems are major; on occasion, I've lost my leased-line Internet connectivity. The resulting loss of email and Web access made a serious dent in my productivity. Think how much worse the situation would be if your LOB applications go down because you can't reach an external provider.
Building New Relationships
Coping with the technology of Internet connectivity is bread-and-butter work for IT professionals. The most difficult part of the .NET equation for IT managers will be mastering the intricacies of B2B relationships. These relationships are a step or two beyond what you might have in place with your vendors. Although the folks who provide your system hardware or Internet connectivity might work closely with you to meet your needs, you'll be moving significant aspects of your business model off site. Daily performance needs will require immediate action from IT staff. Consequently, you must develop close working relationships with the providers of your offsite .NET services.
This situation isn't cause for panic, but it will require you to think differently when you consider partnering with offsite providers. You need to consider your relationship with these providers as a partnership that will require serious commitment from both sides to keep the business running. You must be willing to release control of your project's individual components (remember, you might be dealing with multiple .NET service providers for a single project) while remaining comfortable taking the overall project responsibility that you undoubtedly will be charged with.