Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Technology Trap

There is no doubt that technology has been a great enabler for mankind in general. It has allowed us to do things today, that would be impossible only a decade ago. But there are some fundamental issues that can cause problems with business..... the unnecessary adherence to a particular technology.

The most keenly observed competition over technology is in the retail smartphone sector, where internet forums are full of eager users, gleefully insulting each other about which smartphone is the best.

As long as your technology enables you to achieve your goals while being competitive, you should be happy. But what happens when your technology is actively holding your business back? What are the warning signs?

1. Updates stop happening
When updates to your existing tech stop being rolled out to you, that should be a pretty big clue that things are going to change. At this point, you are in a very good position to do something about it. Now would be a good time to start looking for other ways of doing things. You have time to plan and raise the necessary capital. Your tech colleagues who are in touch with the latest developments should be telling you that changes need to be made. However, your colleagues throughout the rest of the business may struggle to get behind such foresight.

2. Parallel technologies remove their support
Let's say - for instance - that the technology in question, integrates with an Oracle database. When this technology starts dropping from the list that Oracle publishes as being compatible with - alarm bells should really start to ring. This is the clear signal that the rest of the world is starting to diverge from your technology. However, things will still run correctly, as long as nothing else changes on your network. So galvanising interest from the rest of your business may still be difficult. But time is starting to run out.

3. New technology is no longer compatible
A department will want to implement a new piece of technology. It will rely on your oracle database infrastructure, just like your tech, but this new system requires the latest version. Upgrading will mean that the oracle database will no longer work with your technology. A painful decision will have to be taken. Do you replace your old system and update everything else, or do you keep your old tech and update everything else to accommodate the new system? It is at this point that the simple addition of some new technology starts to become extremely expensive. It is too late. You missed your window of opportunity, so unless you have real buy-in from the rest of the business, your old tech will be effectively sandboxed by updating technologies that it relies on. 

4. Technicians who can make important changes become very few and far between
At this point, your tech may be limping along with limited capabilities. As you have been stubborn with not changing your outdated system, you are unlikely to have any staff who can help you now. Unfortunately, the best analysts and developers will have spotted that your tech is no longer relevant, and left to pick up higher job market-value skills elsewhere. So what remains are colleagues desperately clinging to irrelevant skills, and who may have a vested interest in avoiding change. This is where change becomes even more expensive, and with high likelihood of failure. 

So how can we avoid such a problem from happening? Here's my view:
  1. Promote a culture where capability and agility is prized over technology. Make sure that everyone understands that all systems have a built-in obsolescence, based on the pace of change.
  2. Make sure your systems are kept up to date. Your IT hardware procurement and software licensing colleagues should be key to this. They should be watching all your infrastructure and predicting where software releases and/or hardware upgrades diverge in compatibility.
  3. Keep a close eye on the errors raised by colleagues throughout the business. Watch for evidence of 'shaky' behaviour by systems that may be on the limits of compatibility.
  4. When purchasing for new projects, make sure any new software and hardware is in line with your company's anticipated upgrade schedule for your infrastructure. (i.e. it is no good buying software that runs on Oracle 11g now, when your company is running on 10 and won't be upgrading to it for another 2 years.)
Most of this is common sense. But the clear message is that the longer you wait to change, the more expensive it becomes. There is a sweet spot to avoiding the "hyper-expensive computer fads" that may not give good value, while recognising when to change quickly to avoid system constraints and institutional inertia.

No comments:

Post a Comment