New Year's Fears: Things to Worry About

There’s plenty to feel gloomy about as the new year begins: denial about SaaS, offshore outsourcing, bad business models…
Everyone – or most everyone – likes to think positively about the new year. Isn’t that where new year’s resolutions come from? But what about the glass-is-half-empty crowd? How do they ring in the new year? They worry. Here are some candidates intended to bring everyone down as we begin another tough year in the technology trenches.

SaaS: Head in the Sand

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One fear that I have is that the largest proprietary software vendors will remain in denial about how the software industry is changing. I worry that they will not lead the software-as-a-service (SaaS) revolution but follow in its wake.

Why am I worried about this? Because software vendors will try to preserve their current business models for as long as they can, for as long as they can get unconscious large enterprises to write big licensing checks and pay huge annual software maintenance fees.

The fact is that the old model is dying and if the big guys don’t get on board fast they will lose ground to the smaller, more innovative vendors. Why do I care about the large enterprise software vendors? Because if they drive the changes – rather than react to them – the changes will happen faster and be easier for the industry to absorb.

Overall, I think that SaaS is good for consumers – and can be very good over the long-run for software vendors. But I worry that they won’t see it that way and actually thwart SaaS progress. Maybe I worry too much, but I just don’t see these guys “extending and embracing” SaaS with any great enthusiasm.

Business Models: Good vs. Bad

I worry about our inability to realistically assess good versus bad business models. Many companies cling to aging models because they understand them, not because they’re still performing well. It’s difficult to change something that’s still working even if it’s losing steam (“we lost some momentum this quarter but we’ll get it back next quarter”).

It takes creativity and drive to change things when they’re not completely broken, but that’s exactly when things should be changed. I worry that legitimate progress made in business process management (BPM) will be under-exploited.

We now have tools that let us understand current business models while simulating new ones. I hope that we take full advantage of them; I worry that we won’t for all the wrong reasons. Not too many years ago we had to use cumbersome tools to model processes and transactions, and simulations of alternative futures were expensive and time-consuming. Now we can play “what-if” games” quickly and cheaply, if we make the right initial investments in a BPM platform.

Unlike many fads of the past, BPM should become a core competency. I worry that it will be treated as just another over-priced elixir we think we can ignore.

An Outsourced Planet

I worry about the people in the US technology industry. Outsourcing continues at a fast pace – even if it didn’t get the headlines it did a few years ago. We’re still not producing anywhere near the number of professionals we need to service the industry (computer science majors and management information systems majors are still decreasing in the U.S. – though climbing elsewhere).

Too many young people still believe that they’ll have too uncertain a future in technology to make early commitments to the field – so they become accountants or (God help us) lawyers. This makes outsourcing inevitable since the necessary skill sets can’t be found in the US. While this may indeed be good news for other economies, it’s not good news for the world’s largest consumer of technology products and services.

I worry that the American colleges and universities responsible for producing the next generation of technology professionals are far too complacent about the precipitous drop in CS and MIS majors. (Actually, “complacent” is way too kind; I don’t think they care at all).

I worry that too many tenured professors have no vested interest in turning this trend around, and that far too many U.S. colleges and universities are content to manage overall student enrollments and don’t care very much about the relative distribution of students across the majors. The fact is that science, engineering and technology are staples that require continuous investment by everyone – especially higher education – if we actually believe our own rhetoric about innovation and progress.

I worry that our “leaders” are pretty clueless about all this. Can they spell i-n-n-o-v-a-t-i-o-n? Do they understand that we live in a d-i-g-i-t-a-l world? I’m not sure what to do when our politicians slash IT R&D budgets and approve bridges to nowhere while our universities enjoy producing graduates who litigate, spin and deal – but don’t actually produce anything or solve any important problems.

There are other things I worry about but I need to try to stay calm this year. Three fears are probably enough for now but – fear not – there will be others unveiled this year as we begin yet another journey into the dysfunctional, convoluted but wonderful world of business technology.

Happy New Year and all that kind of stuff.






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