A time to wait, a time to deploy

Technology is a constant stream of advances. Thousands of products are released each year promising some way to either increase productivity or lower business costs while attempting to deliver a sound ROI. However, it often seems that many technologies are released before they’re ready for the mainstream and that the gains end users are supposed to achieve are negated as a result of poor design, buggy code or just being too far ahead of the technology curve.

This is the pitfall of the early adopter, but by adhering to certain adoption guidelines, you can help avoid this pain and deploy technology effectively.

The first guideline is simple: There is a worldwide market of 50,000 for anything. Unless your organisation is composed entirely of parts of this group of 50,000 (people who install operating systems on a Sunday afternoon as a form of entertainment), you need to look beyond technology for the sake of technology and see if what you’re about to deploy falls into one of three categories. If it doesn’t, you might want to wait for Version 3.0.

  • Visible differentiation. Is the product really different? When Apple introduced the Macintosh, the product could easily be discerned by anyone at a distance of 100 paces as being vastly different from anything else on the market. Early Macintosh buyers rarely felt buyer’s remorse, because they could do things that they couldn’t do previously.
  • A measurable increase in productivity. Can you objectively chart a productivity boost? Mobile computing devices such as notebooks, mobile phones and BlackBerry e-mail clients all paid back early adopters in gains that were easily quantifiable. Of course, you want to make sure that those gains apply to you. For example, if your users rarely need to leave their desks, you won’t see the same gains on a mobile e-mail device that a road warrior might.
  • Justifiable TCO. If it isn’t noticeably different or won’t increase productivity, new technology had better save you some money. Technology such as software management systems have significant upfront costs, but measurably lower TCO.

There are also three things to watch out for:

  • Unproven platforms. Many new technologies want to achieve status as a de facto platform. Many vendors feel that if they add an API set, they can then call a product a “platform”. The reality is that few technologies will ever achieve true platform status, and it’s best to beware of any technology that purports to be a new platform or paradigm (especially if it can’t meet the criteria above).
  • Measurable but hard-to-detect performance gains. Though vendors often claim vast speed differences, remember that performance that can be measured with a stopwatch might not actually be noticeable in real-world use.
  • Partial solutions. Finally, some products seem like good ideas but are really only partially carried to fruition. Apple’s Newton is a great example. It was arguably one of the finest PDA operating systems ever created, but it lacked the seamless synchronisation of data (an oversight corrected by Palm Inc, which built an operating system that was a success even though it had only a fraction of the Newton’s power). Many businesses have survived the economic downturn in part by cutting back on IT spending. The IT organisations at those companies need to be even more careful about how they deploy new technologies.

Michael Gartenberg is research director for the Client Access and Technologies group at Jupiter Research in New York.

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