Opinion: What Jagger, Richards and company can teach you about building a lasting infrastructure.
Rock music and technology have more in common than might be apparent
at first glance. Both require a high degree of creativity, both attract
their share of eccentric practitioners and both involve a product that
typically becomes obsolete almost as soon as it is released. Typically,
but not always.
In the world of popular music, few bands have proven more durable
than the Rolling Stones. Since the early 1960s, the Stones have been
topping the charts and selling out concerts around the globe. You could
say that the Stones have built a solid infrastructure that has
supported their continuing success for more than 40 years.
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While the hard-partying Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards is
the first to admit his life is not a road map to be followed, he, Mick
Jagger and their fellow Stones can offer a few examples of how to make
an infrastructure work. In honor of the new Martin Scorcese Stones
documentary, "Shine A Light," released April 4, I have distilled the
essence of their infrastructure success (and Keith surely knows a thing
or two about distilling) into three main points:
1. Stay with what got you to the top.
Stones burst onto the music scene with brawny, riff-heavy tunes that
liberally borrowed from the songbook of blues-rock maestro Chuck Berry.
As opposed to the more genteel Beatles, the Stones offered a
down-and-dirty sound forcefully rooted in three-chord blues.
While the Stones have tweaked and experimented with their sound over
the years-more about that in a moment-they have always retained the
sloppy, bluesy riff as the cornerstone of everything they do. Retail IT
practitioners should follow suit. The UNIX mainframe you installed 25
years ago may well still serve as a highly functional core for your
Or how about that in-house-developed warehousing contraption you
implemented out of desperation 10 years ago? If it has been delivering
the goods the whole time, don't be in a rush to replace it with the
latest and greatest third-party solution. Naturally, this doesn't mean
you should never
update or refresh your infrastructure, which brings us to point No. 2:
2. Remain current.
This point may seem to be at odds
with point No. 1, but it really serves as a complement. The Stones
never forgot the deceptively simple three-chord blues structure that
made their music popular the world over, but they also never hesitated
to update that song structure to fit changing musical tastes and
trends. Their early '70s hit "It's Only Rock n Roll (But I Like It)"
fits in perfectly with the glam rock sound of its time, but also is a
clear descendent of earlier blues-rock hits like "Jumpin' Jack Flash."
The Stones had some misses in their efforts to stay current-listen
to the disco-era oddity "Emotional Rescue" or some of their attempts at
psychedelia-but they always managed to embrace their heritage without
being chained by it.
Likewise, retail technologists should always stay true to the
strategies and tactics that brought them success but not be afraid to
modify their infrastructure approach to take advantage of the latest
developments. A new layer of middleware might dramatically increase the
shelf life and value of legacy hardware, or a valuable software
solution might produce an even greater ROI if it is deployed as a
remotely-hosted SAAS (software-as-a-service) application instead of
being maintained in-house.
3. Even the greats have slumps.
For a good chunk of
the 1980s, the Rolling Stones were in a professional slump. They
released some mediocre albums, and a variety of health and personal
problems kept them off the road for most of the decade. Many music
industry observers predicted they would finally break up.
Instead, the Stones released the solid comeback album "Steel Wheels"
in 1989 and launched a two-year world tour that broke all concert
attendance and profitability records. Ever since, they have been
releasing platinum albums and performing in front of millions of fans
on a fairly consistent basis.
No matter how good your retail technology infrastructure is, you
will also hit the occasional slump. A server will crash, or a merger
will cause unexpected integration difficulties. Don't give up. Keep
working at it and have belief in the talents that brought you all your
previous infrastructure success. Keith Richards is still alive and
kicking at 64 years of age. If that is possible, than anything is
Dan Berthiaume covers the retail space for eWEEK. For more industry news, check out eWEEK.com's Retail Site.