Industry Insights: Wearing Two Hats

Technologists need to know how to separate the real-world improvements from the extras.

May 12, 2003

3 Min Read
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• Inventions improve your life by enabling you to do things you couldn't do before. Take the World Wide Web, which didn't even exist 13 years ago, yet Tim Berners-Lee's invention is, arguably, the single most revolutionary force of the new century. Then there's Ethernet, which Bob Metcalfe invented in 1974. Imagine life without those happy little packets flying down the wire.

• Innovations simplify your life by taking those things that you could do before, and using new technology, or modifications of current technology, to let you do them much more easily. A good example here is the iSCSI protocol: It builds on Ethernet and lets you replace complex, expensive Fibre Channel links with something that, if done right, should reduce the complexity of storage networks.

Has the Pendulum Swung Too Far?

Tech innovations make the corporate side happy because they often lead to greater efficiency--a good thing for the bottom line but not necessarily for the IT pro. We're doing more with fewer bodies, and that's not likely to improve in the foreseeable future. In fact, the Information Technology Association of America's annual survey of hiring managers shows little new demand for IT workers--less than a 1 percent net gain in IT jobs for the first quarter of 2003 (see www.itaa.org).

To technologists, the frosted side of the invention/ innovation mini-wheat is enticing. We thrive on newness--new technologies, new gadgets, new problems to solve. But doing so can put us at a disadvantage: We see the glittering lights, bells and whistles as necessary requirements to move our companies along. We got a little too exuberant in the late 1990s and created solutions for problems that didn't exist. And we learned that the hard way when market forces whacked us in the back of the head.For any potential new technological solution, we've learned that the businessperson within us needs to weigh the risks along with the improvements. We can't be blinded by the pretty blinking lights. We need to understand how to separate the mini-wheat from the chaff, the real improvements from the extras that are, well, not meaningful in the real world. We've learned to measure the real business value of a new product or service. Like it or not, we've faced a business correction for technology exuberance.

So has the correction gone too far? It may seem like things have stagnated, but your daily life is probably much different from what it was four years ago. Consider the advances in ticketing processes for airlines, online auctions, banking, even your taxes--the Internet is no longer optional for business. Cell phones are ubiquitous. Even your parents are using e-mail and the Web. The drive for instant communication in the consumer industry may drive IT, rather than the other way around.

Within the IT industry, there are some areas that look really promising, such as wireless applications and technology, Web services and security. All these are going through spurts that engage the technologist and businessperson alike. So wear your propeller beanie proudly. There's more innovating to be done.

-- Mike Lee, [email protected]

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