The start of the new year in technology is marked on the consumer side by the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and on the corporate side by lots of meetings about return on investment, aligning technology and business, and a host of good intentions to get the most bang for the technology buck. The sides couldnt contrast more.
Imagine doing an ROI analysis at the dinner table regarding that proposed purchase of Sonys new 70-inch Grand Wega microdisplay rear-projection HDTV with a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel resolution. No reasonable ROI discussion will ever come out in favor of purchasing such a grand beast. And, of course, no such discussion will ever take place for a portable PlayStation or the many interlocked components of the digital entertainment centers that have usurped the space once quaintly known as the family room. You buy those products because they are bigger, brighter and (much) louder than their predecessors. End of discussion.
Yet those same folks who will buy the 70-inch HDTV only to watch their favorite NFL team lose up close and personal on Sunday will subject their corporate technology purchasing decisions to agonizing cost-justifying exercises, characterized by the following types of questions: Will the move to blade servers justify the purchase cost and the reconfiguration of the server room? What is the cost of recasting applications running on Unix to Linux or Windows? Can you guarantee that this project will be done on time and on budget?
With such starkly different approaches to purchasing decisions, I think there is something the business world could gain from the consumer world. Sometimes there is more to learn from starting a project than from studying it. The Sony Walkman, the Apple iPod and even those 70-inch televisions would not have made it into the market and thrived if they had been subjected to the ROI process associated with corporate technology decisions. Yet those products set a new direction (the Walkman) or point toward a new direction (the 70-inch HDTV) for consumer electronics.
The glitz and glamour associated with the Consumer Electronics Show have a purpose in providing a high-profile jump-start for new products. A big, expensive product introduction indicates a company is putting its marketing muscle behind an idea. While consumers will decide whether the idea deserves an investment, consumer electronics vendors are willing to place their bets on the table.
Big projects on the enterprise agenda this year include integration of existing applications, restructuring of internal operations around standards-based platforms and a real-time environment where business results are immediately visible.
While those projects were on the list for last year, the environment in which they operate has changed dramatically. A wave of big mergers on the vendor side, a group of new executives taking the helm at existing vendors and new platform upgrades have changed the dynamics of the enterprise technology market.
Unless enterprise customers are willing to take on technology decision-making themselves, they will find that decisions are being made for them by default through acquisitions.
For corporate customers, its time to revive the testing and development groups that can create solutions on a small scale before rolling them out on a grander scale.
Running through multiple ROI analyses is not useful when you dont know whether the technology investment will work in the companywide rollout. You need to perform application integration instead of simply studying the process.
Early indications are that this year will be robust economically. Meetings and reports are fine for years when not much is happening in the economy, but you dont want your company technologically hobbled in a year when business is brisk. Take a cue from the consumer electronics industry and do something, rather than studying the topic to death.
Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at [email protected].