The Dot-Coms are Gone, but Their Legacy is Not.

The era of the nerd is over. It's time to get back to business as usual and solve problems for business instead of showing off your technical prowess.

The era of the nerd is over. Its time to get back to business as usual and solve problems for business instead of showing off your technical prowess.

The nerd era can be squarely bit-mapped to the rise of Bill Gates, whose multibillion-dollar fortune actually inspired a whole series of Gates clones inside Microsoft, as well as outside its hallowed office complex. They had the same greasy smudges on their glasses, mimicked his mannerisms and often timed their e-mail messages to go out in the wee hours of the morning to prove they were working around the clock.

The nerd era was a celebration of innovation and development skills, and a sign that this industry could create the future and attract most of the investment dollars. It was a new paradigm that will have some lasting effects. Formality was replaced with informality. Business suits were replaced by polo shirts, and ideas and competency were recognized over seniority and an ability to follow the rules. Corporate hierarchies were flattened and decision-making was moved far closer to the customer.

But Microsoft is no longer driving this industry. Its not that its in any danger of going out of business or decreasing in size. The company is remarkably healthy and has had one of the best run-ups in the history of business. And with its current $26.9 billion war chest and dominance on the desktop, it will continue to be a central part of American business.

Nevertheless, American business is no longer focused on technology. Its now focused on solving business problems, and technology is only one piece of the solution.

In the past few years, the Internet has had a much more profound effect on corporations than anyone could have possibly imagined. First and foremost, it has created enough confusion to foster a massive explosion and contraction in our economy. Trillions of dollars were added and subtracted from this countrys net worth over the past five years. The emphasis is now on ROI, and if you cant prove that to customers, youll probably lose business to competitors who can.

Second, the Internet has initiated a subtle but powerful revolution across the corporate landscape. The emphasis is no longer on technology to solve functional problems. We are now wrestling with integration of various functions to create processes that range well beyond the confines of a single department.

That was the promise of multimillion-dollar installations of ERP applications from companies such as Baan, J.D. Edwards, PeopleSoft and SAP. The advent of CRM applications from the likes of Siebel made those applications useful, driven in part by a political directive inside IT to make the ERP investments look like dollars were well spent, and in part by competition from dot-coms to Web-enable their entire business and show incredible efficiency because there were no legacy systems to contend with.

The dot-coms are gone or going, but their legacy is not. Linking together isolated departments and building an infrastructure that makes it easier to do business with customers are paramount. So are improving efficiency and decreasing operating costs.

But buying a faster computer or a new office suite have become irrelevant. These were the drivers of the nerd era, and while they may be nostalgic for many developers, their time has come and gone. Now the only question is how they will be viewed by history.