To succeed in the IT game, you have to know the rules.
What are the current rules of the enterprise technology game? While calling the business of technology a game might seem to be treating it too lightly, any activity where there are winners and losers is a game on some level. And unless you know the rules, you cant play. Here is the current set of rules I came up with while attending the Business4Site show (an event put on by Ziff Davis, which publishes eWEEK) in Los Angeles recently:
Rule 1: Making wise technology choices is the fastest way for a company to differentiate itself. Several speakers, and especially keynoter Don Tapscott, attacked the IT-doesnt-matter argument, which has garnered a lot of attention over the past year. Tapscott is the author of several technology books, including his most recent, "The Naked Corporation." While I wont summarize the book here, I think Tapscotts theme echoes Rule 1.
In addition, the continuing spread of high-speed connectivity and the increasing use of the Web for electronic commerce combine to show that corporate differentiation can take place at digital speed. Customers and potential partners make judgments about companies based on the sophistication, speed and intelligent use of technology present in a companys Web site. The Web site has become the companys face to the world, to its investors and to its own employees. A company that doesnt understand the role technology plays in distinguishing itself from the pack risks being left behind. The idea of outsourcing your most important technology to differentiate yourself is a dead end.
Rule 2: Standardization leads to differentiation. It is a mistake to think that the rise of standards leads to fewer choices in technology decisions. The presence of standards allows for greater differentiation at the user level. The rise of the AM and FM radio standards didnt mean that all radio receivers would be alike. Those standards meant that manufacturers could concentrate on providing users with a range of receivers based on user preferences for mobility, sound quality or cost.
The same principle applies to the current technology climate. E-mail based on Internet protocols has not meant the end of competition for e-mail vendors or carriers. Instead, e-mail is now available over a far wider range of devices than previously, and even the e-mail infrastructure providers can differentiate themselves on security, filtering and the ability to tie messaging systems into other applications. The idea that the rise of standards would reduce innovation was a mistake. In fact, innovation accelerates with the rise of standards.
Rule 3: Technology professionals spend way too much time grumbling about outsourcing, budget constraints and business executives who make unreasonable requests. Outsourcing is going to remain part of the technology scene, and tech professionals need to understand where outsourcing makes sense and advocate its use in those circumstances. Budgets will always be constrained. Business executives need to be tutored on how to make good technology choices, rather than being buried in acronyms. Tech professionals have to concentrate on developing a skill set beyond the narrow core upon which many careers were built. Business and communication skills are as necessary as technology expertise.
Rule 4: Pay attention to the kids. Children using e-mail and instant messaging and talking on the phone increasingly via voice over IP are the biggest advocates for technology. They dont worry about Internet security, line capacity or server scalability. They just expect the system to work when they want to use itwhich is just about always. According to that model, your job is to worry about all the pieces that go into creating an IT infrastructure that is always on, always secure and always easy to use. Consumersespecially teenage consumerswould consider you very strange if you said technology is slumping and technology advances are slowing.
The Business4Site conferences are designed to provide a look ahead at business and technology directions. I expect that, at the next conference this fall, the rules will change once again. But changing the rules is what the technology business game is all about.
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Since 1996, Eric Lundquist has been Editor in Chief of eWEEK, which includes domestic, international and online editions. As eWEEK's EIC, Lundquist oversees a staff of nearly 40 editors, reporters and Labs analysts covering product, services and companies in the high-technology community. He is a frequent speaker at industry gatherings and user events and sits on numerous advisory boards. Eric writes the popular weekly column, 'Up Front,' and he is a confidant of eWEEK's Spencer F. Katt gossip columnist.