Sunday, July 21, 2024

Managing IT: Changing Our Minds (About Everything)

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We need to change our minds about everything.

Quick: check on the ages of those in the cockpits of your companies. How many are over the age of fifty? How many are older than 60?

For every senior technology executive over the age of sixty, add 100 points; for every one between the ages of fifty and sixty add 50 points. If you hit 1,000 points, you are absolutely, positively doomed.

If you hit 500 points you will die a slow death (until the senior executives themselves die, whichever comes first). If you’re under 50 points, you can stop reading this column (though keep your eye on that fifty-something executive who might be plotting a slow-down).

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I am over fifty years of age – though not yet sixty. But, you see, I no longer run a technology organization: I outsourced myself to the consulting and teaching pasture where I can do relatively little damage. I’m also free from the inertia of the permanent rock formations that govern many large enterprise technology organizations.)

Here’s the deal. The world has changed – forever. First, hierarchical management structures will weaken as we continue to globally decentralize our business units. We have to change the way we think about control, standardization and the overall governance we bring to technology acquisition, deployment and support.

This will be hard because many of us fantasize our roles as technology -Nazis screaming things like “no changes for you – one year!” Some of us have really enjoyed saying “no” to the business. This will end (or those of us that say “no” will “end”). Technology enables the business – not the other way around.

If we haven’t changed our minds about this fundamental principle then we’re in big trouble. Glass houses are morphing into clouds.

We need to change our minds about the safety we find in established vendors and their products. Yes, Microsoft, Oracle and IBM make good stuff but so do Salesforce, Redhat and JackBe. We don’t need to buy everything veteran vendors sell just because they’ve been around forever and we know we can explain Microsoft, Oracle and IBM to confused business executives and boards of directors. It’s time to try some new providers, some new products and some new acquisition models.

Open source is here to stay. Even the established vendors have “embraced” open standards. They have no choice. Do you? Yes, you can stay with proprietary software and pay the price or migrate to a hybrid software architecture that blends the best of both worlds. Who knows where all this will lead, but it’s time to begin the migration toward openness and the freedom to express yourself. Symphony versus MS Office versus OpenOffice versus StarOffice? Yes.

Of course we’ll all be renting hardware and software. Have you changed your mind yet about hardware- and software-as-a-service (HaaS/SaaS)? Have you spent any time in the clouds?

Speaking at Oracle Openworld Larry Ellison said:

“The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women’s fashion. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane. When is this idiocy going to stop? We’ll make cloud computing announcements. I’m not going to fight this thing. But I don’t understand what we would do differently in the light of cloud.”

That’s at least 50 points. I thought he was younger than that. Cloud computing is not about how many servers or software applications you can rent, it’s about shifting the locus of computing and communications technology outside the corporate firewall, redefining core competencies and elevating vendor management to a real discipline.

We need to change how we think about cloud computing from an incremental shift in technology offerings to a whole new way of acquiring, delivering and supporting digital technology. I am glad that Larry does not plan to fight “this thing.”

Will you let everyone bring their computers to work? Or will they have to stay standardized on Dells, HPs or Lenovos? Why? Try thinking about things differently. Maybe it’s more about network connectivity than PC standardization.

What about devices? Are you still deploying fat clients on some hardware migration or “refresh” schedule? Let’s change our minds about all this. How many of us need fat clients with the amazing computing power they provide?

Smart phones – otherwise known as mobile thin clients – are more than adequate for a huge segment of professionals in many companies. Why are we still living in the “break and fix” world of the 1980s and 1990s? Do you actually support PCs at your company?

What if you changed your mind about thin versus fat clients, leasing versus buying, paying-by-the-drink versus paying-by-the-box and matching computing and communications requirements to professionals who may or may not need anything more than a smart phone with a 3G browser? My guess is that we could all reduce our acquisition, deployment and support costs by over 50% while providing more mobility and flexibility to our internal and external technology clients.

The whole concept of networks and networking is changing. We used to think about finite (and controllable) local and wide area networks (and then virtual private networks) as our communications highways, but all that’s changed since the Internet emerged as a bona fide platform, and interoperability and reuse emerged through service-oriented architectures.

Networks are continuous, not discrete, as semi-automated and fully automated transaction processing emerges as the raison d’etre of ubiquitous networks. Those execs who are 100 pointers will find it really hard to change their minds about open/continuous/ubiquitous network architectures because they scare the hell out of baby-boomers.

Web 2.0 tools are redefining why we want communications and collaboration. Wikis, blogs, RSS filters, folksonomies, mashups, podcasts, social networks, crowdsourcing and virtual worlds are pushing networks to new supporting roles – roles that are growing by leaps and bounds. Try putting the Web 2.0 genie back in the bottle. I dare you.

Let’s all change our minds about people. Some of our people are ready, able and willing to change with the times, but some are not at all interested in what tomorrow brings. You know what – and who – I mean. The exploitation of new technology is directly proportional to the trajectory of the changes we “extend and embrace” (remember that phrase?).

Debating endlessly about whether or not open software, cloud computing or SaaS have any merit is a waste of time – and most likely a diversionary tactic designed to slow – if not outright kill – the pace of change.

Can we change our minds about everything? Maybe the first step is to get the points down to under 100. If anyone tells you that leadership doesn’t matter they’re way over fifty – and probably in charge.

Leadership is key to perspective, strategy and, yes, the vision thing: it’s hard to see forward when age and experience has made you near-sighted. I have observed over the past few years that the massive changes in the field have fallen victim to all varieties of sabotage by 50 and 100 pointers.

They’ve described the changes as risky, scary, stupid, not-ready-for-prime-time, expensive, insecure and unlikely-to-scale, among other adjectives and accusations intended to keep SaaS, HaaS, open source, cloud computing, etc. at arms length – at least until they pass away.

Steve Andriole is the Thomas G. Labrecque Professor of Business at Villanova University where he conducts applied research in business fl‡ technology convergence. He is also the co-founder of The Acentio Group, a new economy consortium that focuses on optimizing investments in information technology. He is formerly the Senior Vice President & Chief Technology Officer of Safeguard Scientifics, Inc. and the Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President for Technology Strategy at CIGNA Corporation. His career began at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency where he was the Director of Cybernetics Technology. He can be reached at

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