Need Help With Tech Decisions? Try the 2-10 Rule

Executives faced with IT decisions should put into practice Fedex's "2-10 rule," which defines when a technology moves from the cool to really useful stage.

At FedEx, technology execs call it the "2-10 rule." No, that doesnt have anything to do with what time your package gets delivered. The 2-10 rule defines when a technology moves from the interesting and cool stage to the really useful. The really useful stage is when you are willing to spend money to implement the technology products and services at your company.

As Steve Streitmatter, director of IT services at FedEx Services, recently explained it to me, the 2 and 10 refer to years. Vendors would often have you believe that a certain technology is going to be a big deal within two years, but it usually takes 10 years for a technology to blossom. But when that technology blossoms, it really is a big deal.

Streitmatter and I were speaking specifically about RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology and its use at FedEx. While the company has several ongoing RFID pilots and smaller projects, Streitmatter sees the day when the radio tags become ubiquitous as a means of package identification happening much more toward the 10-year end of the scale than the two-year side. Some tough obstacles are standing in the way of widespread tagging right now, including cost, too many standards, location and facility constraints, inconsistent reliability, and computer processing and storage limitations.

"I think RFID is coming; its just not coming tomorrow," said Streitmatter, based in Memphis, Tenn. Today, FedEx is using RFID in employee badges, for control of trucks entering and leaving FedEx facilities, and for keyless entry and ignition in the companys fleet. But replacement of bar coding with RFID tags? That is at the 10 end of the scale.

I think the 2-10 rule is true not only for the world of tagging and identifying packages, but also for the technology business at large. Here are a few other 2-10 areas and my guess at where they are on the timeline.

  • Open source and Linux. Proponents expected the whole world to be running open source in about two years. Id say that in the enterprise, open-source and Linux development is about halfway toward the 10 mark.

What the open-source community needs for the enterprise is a consistent record of companies successfully implementing open-source projects and technology vendors figuring out how to make money and still be open-source advocates.

The equation that works for open source (as with VOIP) isnt the cost savings involved, as companies such as Microsoft can take that equation off the table. What makes open source work are faster, easier implementations of applications that move computing technology forward.

  • Voice over IP. This one is also about halfway along the timeline. While consumers are quickly catching on that they can seriously cut their phone bills via VOIP services, companies are slower in their adoption rates. Telecommunications infrastructures at most companies are well-established and reliable, and telecom suppliers are quick to drop their prices to match VOIP bids.

The VOIP movement at companies will develop as they create applications that ride on top of the VOIP network and that cant be matched by existing telecom systems. Those applications are starting to appear.

  • Network computing. This was certainly one of those ideas ahead of its time. Having locked-down terminals accessing a central computer was pitched as a cost-saving, easier-to-manage corporate computing network. Security and regulatory requirements are needed to give network computing the impetus to move from the 2 toward the 10 end of the scale. In the locked-down terminal world, it is much easier to secure data and manage employee access. An employee walking off with a dumb terminal would be much less ruinous than one walking off with a laptop full of confidential data.

The best path for the executive looking at the confusing world of IT is to decide which technology will bring the greatest benefit to his or her company now. The 2-10 rule may be just the tool he or she needs to help in that decision process.

Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be contacted at

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