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Sometimes, You're Better Off Being An Eager Follower, Not A Leader

I recently had the absolute pleasure and privilege of meeting and interacting with more than 800 business-technology executives--at the InformationWeek Spring Conference and the Oracle Executive Summit. These events engaged the mind and challenged traditional thinking on subjects such as offshore outsourcing, the use of business technology in developing global brands, and radio-frequency identification. Best of all, they allowed me and many others to listen to and learn from some of the most forward-thinking business-technology executives in the world today.

It was a perfect time to reflect upon William Shakespeare's quote, "And he goes through life, his mouth open, and his mind closed." And because there were so many great ideas to learn and absorb, I tried hard not to align my behavior with Shakespeare's unflattering description.

For it truly was wonderful to hear that many of you are once again focusing your attention on growth and that to help propel yourselves forward, investment in emerging technologies is once again picking up. In fact, in a recent InformationWeek survey of 1,500 business-technology executives, we found the No. 1 concern is keeping up with emerging technologies.

And as I listened to various speakers and discussions throughout the week, I kept reflecting on that No. 1 priority and wondering why it came out ahead of the many other pressing issues you're all facing. Is it out of competitive fear? Or the fact that as much as 70% of current budgets go toward legacy systems, which makes investing in emerging technologies a pipedream? Or is it that your CEO wants to do business with Wal-Mart or the Department of Defense and you have no idea where to begin with RFID compliance?

All of these issues may or may not play into this fear, but author Don Tapscott at the Oracle Executive Summit creatively dismantled Nicholas Carr's theory that "IT Doesn't Matter" and made the powerful statement that in today's economy, "businesses are naked. And if you are naked, you better be buff." Well, the only way that organizations can truly be buff is to know what their customers' wants and needs are and to service them with absolute perfection. The way to achieve this goal is by properly aligning people, processes, and technology.

While everyone in the room was snickering at Carr's theory and nodding in approval of Tapscott's wisdom and feeling cautiously optimistic on IT spending, a fascinating contradiction arose. During this very same event, I had the opportunity to pose a question to the entire audience: "Does it pay today to be an early adopter in emerging technologies or to be a fast follower?" To my surprise, more than 80% answered "fast follower."

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