Technology leads

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18 June 2014 | 0

Paul HearnsWe are being told that the economy is turning a corner. We are being told that jobs are being created and that consumer confidence is rising. We are being told that the green shoots of recovery are well and truly coming through.

Irrespective of whether you believe such things, in the IT industry here in Ireland, there have been those who have experienced hard times, but also there have been those that have had strong demand and growth. But I’ve had a few conversations in recent times with folk from various quarters and a common theme is emerging is good news indeed: technology leads.

This may sound like a fairly simplistic statement, but let me explain.

HP recently held an event where it detailed its new application lifecycle management solution, Apps 12. It is geared towards allowing organisations to develop applications on an ever more rapid time scale, right down to multiple releases per week, while still applying rigour and quality to the output. Recognising the fact that in everything from mobile apps for mass consumption right up to monolithic ERP systems, there is a need for more rapid development, testing and delivery. The recommendations from developers, analysts and business process experts have been folded into the suite to provide faster and faster delivery times without compromising quality.

However, Kurt Bittner, principle analyst, Forrester Research, found that the rest of the business was not yet changing fast enough to take advantage of the new delivery capabilities of development teams.
Bittner said that there were also cultural barriers impeding Agile methodologies adoption outside of IT, such as a lack of business willingness to engage and also a lack of management participation and support. Clearly, the technology is leading business practices and leaving them behind.

“Rather than just looking for the lowest price turnaround, organisations are looking for agility, faster time to value and time to market”

Another example emerged at time of writing from an early software defined networking pioneer, Martin Casado, co-founder Nicira Networks, now a VMware company. Casado said that he thought that hardware would be the toughest thing to change in enterprise networks, whereas in actual fact it turned out to be mindsets and organisational structures were the biggest hurdles, he said.

“Probably the most inflexible things in industry are people’s brains,” said Casado.

In much the same way as first server virtualisation and self-provisioning led to server sprawl and unwieldy architectures, and then cloud computing too (in the form of platform as a service and infrastructure as a service in particular) led to problems such as vendor lock-in, stalled projects and underachieving systems, the technology often ran ahead of people’s understanding of how to employ it. I wrote in a blog post that human 1.0, the only variable in the system that had not received a significant upgrade, was still persisting in trying to use new technologies in the same way as old technologies.
I argued that this is most likely due to a lack of vision that meant often new technology was adopted purely to solve a very immediate problem, and that its longer term application as part of an overall strategic vision was often ignored or at the very least misunderstood. Hence, with that one pain point salved, people were often at a loss to know what to do next and consequently new technology implementations often stalled after the initial stages.

Despite all of this, Accenture in particular has done a lot of work around the idea of digital business and showed that those organisations which can efficiently use the new technologies are consistently more profitable and competitive than their non-digital embracing counterparts.

But there are now signs of hope. Those green shoots that I mentioned mean that people have now started to turn their focus to things other than the actual cost of something.
Speaking to a person from an international company that deals with outsourcing, he said the company has recently seen less willingness to outsource services and support to the likes far east, based solely on price. With outright cost being less of a driving factor, what are people focusing on?

First of all, they are looking for more ‘near shore’ options to be closer to the service provider resources, in geographical and other respects. But also, to focus on speed and time to value.
Rather than just looking for the lowest price turnaround, organisations are looking for agility, faster time to value and time to market. By being able to react quicker, bring things to market quicker and achieve faster time to value, it allows the digitally comfortable organisations to get the drop on rivals, achieve competitive advantage and win. But again, all of this is enabled by the technology — it is there already and waiting to deliver.

So again, the lesson is clear — technology leads.

With this in mind, how can we ensure that in recognising this, we are not left in its wake?

Well, that’s not an easy one to answer. When blogging on the subject, I argued that vendors, implementers and ourselves, the trade press, have much to do in this area to educate the market as to the real possibilities of emerging technologies. But more must be done to avoid the blinkered mindset of the quick win, the low hanging fruit, the easy victories.

In looking at technologies that can have a significant impact, organisations need to be cognisant of impact beyond the current goal. I recently met with the company Future Facilities who have made a business out of helping companies in crisis in their data centres as they realise that they cannot max out on capacity because their fit out to date has exceeded initial specifications.
Human 1.0 needs to think ahead not only for dependencies, but also for footholds — those opportunities arising from current implementations that will facilitate future developments and expansions. This will hopefully end the expensive and disappointing cycle of new technology, quick win and then unfulfilled potential.

In lieu of a major firmware upgrade, Human 1.0 must rely on education to ensure that when the technology leads, organisations can benefit, instead of floundering in its wake.


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