Understanding Rich Internet Applications

By | April 28, 2005

The demand for complex, flexible and efficient applications has opened the doors for Rich Internet Applications (RIA’s). RIA’s can marry back-office infrastructures with the Internet and front-office applications.

The result is twofold: 1) Faster development, more streamlined business logic, server savings and eCommerce efficiency gains; 2) Better communication with employees, customers, suppliers and partners.


HTML has traditionally been great at gathering content but is known for being very inflexible for application development. HTML’s limitations for application development are due to its pages being stored on the server and the fact that it lacks client-side intelligence. Since it has been one of the only tools out there, it has resulted in the following: web applications that are very difficult and complex to use, applications that do not deliver the ROI that they should, a corporation’s ability to change users over is often nonexistent and the cost to maintain and support the application is too high.

Client-Side Processing and Data Visualization

One of the most important areas that has changed with the development of RIA’s is dual processing on the client and server, rather than the reliance of processing on the server only. This is particularly useful in a couple areas of focus: client-side processing, and data visualization.

With client-side processing, utilizing processing on the client as well as the server will decrease bandwidth and time to process. This, in turn, increases customer satisfaction by giving feedback and validation immediately. A good example of where client-side processing is useful is with a refinancing application. The application needs to validate information from the applicant, such as the credit history, bank routing number, email address and social security number. It also has to format data like dollar amounts and show multiple rates that are based on income, savings and history. What is different about processing on the client side and server simultaneously is that the data is collected on a single page, not on separate pages, and they are all on the same client application.

Data visualization is the ability to interactively analyze business data by drilling down into charts and graphs instead of just viewing them and can be very powerful for those who spend time analyzing data and making decisions. It has been very difficult for companies to integrate various disparate systems (human resource, financial, eCommerce) into portals in order to get this type of information. By utilizing the processing power and Graphic User Interface (GUI) capabilities of the PC, RIA’s make this process much easier.

ERP’S to VRP’s via RIA’s

Since the early 1990s, companies have spent millions of dollars implementing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems and still have a difficult time integrating all departments and functions across a company onto a system that can serve all those different departments´ particular needs. Obviously this is a big task but is, in essence, what an ERP was designed to do. This integrated approach can have a tremendous payback if companies have the right tools and implement correctly. Unfortunately, the software has lacked the flexibility to support fluid relationships within and across all the modules. In addition, once implemented, modifying business processes is infeasible and upgrading is very agonizing and expensive. Sarbanes-Oxley compliance (SOX) is also bringing to the forefront many of the shortcomings in place. Obviously business is more dynamic than ever, and the use of the web for business purposes is prevalent. The shift to the web in this sector has not been up to par. With the advancement of RIA’s, we are going to see a change.

A major, venture backed start-up that we are working with is focused on the Virtual Corporation, utilizing Virtual Resource Planning (VRP’s). This is the new paradigm. VRP’s differ greatly from ERP’s. A couple of main areas are to follow.

First, business processes transcend company boundaries. For example, in the sale-order fulfillment process, it is more and more common for corporations to outsource parts of this process to third party logistics providers. The application topology, data flow, and logic process needs to be able to adapt to this shifting business reality. Thus, it is vital to deconstruct complex applications/business processes into granular web services. The Web Services approach provides the ability for processes to transcend corporate boundaries and to provide Web Services standards.

Second, ERP systems were built for back-office personnel. It is still very common for there to be someone manually updating the system. Take the case of someone transferring from one department to another and receiving a promotion and/or pay raise. The workflow has not been built to systemically update all the departments with the appropriate organizational data. If that information is not updated, then it can throw off payroll, benefits, etc. With outsourcing becoming more prevalent as companies focus on their core competencies, this manual updating is not an option.

In summary, RIA’s are allowing us to become more flexible, dynamic and business focused.

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