We're ready for what comes next

We are emerging from the three lean years that followed the five crazy years. It was a wild ride, and I think we are actually better off for it.

In the past eight years, we have grown a lot wiser as professionals: first, we learnt that IT is a powerful stimulus and an enabler of growth. Then we learned that technology by itself doesn't produce value. Value, it turns out, is actually produced by aligning technology with business and managing IT operations as if they were a business -- which they are.

Let's think about what we've learned. Ten years ago, re-engineering and client/server technology showed everyone how powerful IT could be. Then the Internet kicked in. That started the crazy years. We all participated in a collective euphoria. Big iron was dead, e-commerce was the future, and we rushed to get on board before the world passed us by. Companies with cool products and intimidating names sprang up to sell systems and services that promised to transform the way business was done.

Those were heady days, but I remember feeling that they were a bit goofy, too. Much of the activity consisted of people building Web sites where other people could buy stuff. I wondered if I was missing something.

Then the economy slowed, and in the space of six months, the crazy years ended and the lean years began. The lean years were a classic example of being blamed for mistakes that weren't entirely our fault. People started pointing fingers at IT and saying it was because of us that they lost so much money. Well, yes, we were involved, but as I recall, CEOs and CFOs and boards of directors and investors, all of whom wanted more and more, were urging us on every day. Nonetheless, in the past few years, we have faced our problems, cut costs, improved efficiencies, gotten a grip on expenses and learned to get things done faster without spending so much money.

It is this experience that makes us ready for what comes next. A lot of new technology is about to burst forth. But we won't be so easily dazzled this time. As we listen to presentations or read articles about some great new thing, we'll be aware of it when we start to get those old feelings from the crazy years. We'll be able to smile whenever we're reminded of the days when people told us that "the Internet changes everything" and then proceeded to sell us "totally cool" products that never really worked or that cost way too much. We're wiser now.

And the next time someone tells us how hard or complex something is and we start to feel pangs of self-doubt, we'll be able to pause for a moment. Remember, we made it through the lean years. That was very hard and complex, and we figured it out anyway. Yes, there's a lot of new technology (RFID, wireless, SOA and the like), but now we know that no technology is so new that it changes everything -- at least not all at once. And the important questions aren't so much about how the technology works as they are about how we use it to enable the organizations we work for to either cut costs or increase revenues.

Business needs what we know. Now that we have learnt what the past eight years had to teach us, we are ready for what comes next.

Michael Hugos is the author of 'Essentials of Supply Chain Management' (John Wiley & Sons, 2003)

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