Focus on business challenges, not technology innovations

The IT industry really does bring out the best and worst traits of human nature. Were we always quite so excitable about the latest big thing? It is difficult to tell, as historical records don’t tend to preserve the glee reserved for all things new and improved, whether or not they have any long-term advantage.

This is particularly relevant given that we are perhaps in one of the most inventive periods since the dawn of humanity – at least, that is how things look from the inside. While the jury is out as to the usefulness and ultimate value of many of our creations, the speed of “innovation” has been accelerating consistently over the past 500 years, such that we have now reached a point where it is impossible to keep up with everything that is going on.

It is a very human thing, however, to want to keep up appearances. In the arts it is important to have an opinion on the latest show, film, or book, and our high streets are full of the latest must-have items. You can see where I’m going with this can’t you – yes indeed, our magpie tendencies to accumulate shiny things also spills over into how we view, and indeed select and procure IT systems.

We all know this, but many go with it anyway. Marketing departments in IT vendor companies spend their time working out how to make even the most humdrum of technologies look like the best thing since, well, the last best thing. Phrases like “paradigm shift” and “game changer” are used over and again, even though both speaker and listener knows that if the paradigm had shifted as often as predicted, we would have run out of games to change long ago.

Business leaders are subject to the same pressures – after all, in the words of the Matrix agent, they are “only human”. It was only a matter of time before a CIO would say to me that his boss had asked him when could he get some of that cloud computing. The fact that the question doesn’t make any sense is neither here nor there: businesses want to demonstrate they are up with the corporate Joneses, just as CIOs themselves want to have a few leading edge projects on their CVs. Analyst firms as well can be no better, as indeed, if things weren’t quite as exciting as everyone was making out, would we really need analysts to make sense of it all?

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of new and exciting things made possible through the use of technology IT. It has brought the world closer together, opening up whole new ways of communicating and collaborating, and so on and so on. The danger however, is that we are so busy looking beyond where we are for the next big thing, we don’t give ourselves the time to make the most of what we already have. Organisations don’t always need the latest and greatest technology to thrive, and there is a big difference between being flexible as a business and simply changing because that is what everyone else is doing. Far more important is that their requirements are clearly understood, and that the right tool is selected for the job in hand.

As my old boss Steve, a seasoned programme manager used to ask, “What’s the problem we’re trying to solve here?” Okay, his language was a bit more colourful than that but the point still stands. As we look at the waves of so-called innovation and try to decide whether they have any relevance to our businesses, let’s first and foremost focus on the challenges we face, and how best to deal with them. In a couple of years time, when the dust has settled on the latest hyped-up bandwagon, if the challenges still remain then we won’t have been doing our jobs, even if the agenda item of “keeping up with innovation” has been achieved.

Content Contributors: Jon Collins

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