Glory days are gone

It's September 2012. The end of another long, hot, miserable summer for those of us who still call ourselves high-tech vendors. Remember the way it used to be? When technology was changing everything and all you had to do to get rich was save the world? Remember when you could spin a grand vision of the future one day and be swamped with customers the next?

Remember when IT users were so spooked by all the visions that they'd sign off on any new e-thing, as long as the suits thought it was cool?

Throw in a reasonable-sounding ROI, promise that you'd make them innovators and the checks would start flowing. For a while, anyway.

Originally, it was just tech vendors and IT nice and comfortable. We made the geekware, and they made sure IT was mysterious enough that the suits couldn't object too much. As long as the sales force got lots of cool gadgets and the CXOs got enough hand-holding, everyone was happy.

Then Y2k showed that none of us were so smart after all. Electronic transactions frozen, data centers grinding to a halt, reactors melting down, golf carts suddenly powerless. Images like those conjured up the threat of an IT disaster that even a CEO could recognize.

Then the damn Web happened. Blew us up like a balloon, then popped us.

We almost missed it, early on, with the Amazon.coms, the Yahoos. But we got the idea. We told corporate America that if it couldn't keep up with change, it would get Darwinned into oblivion.

Talk about a boost in sales!

And the start-ups pure incremental revenue. Except for a few bucks for cappuccino makers and fancy chairs, every dollar of that venture capital swag went directly to us. Billions.

The money came at us like water from a fire hose. We barely counted it. When we wanted more, we shipped Version 2.002, changed the licensing or added a new color box and called it an upgrade.

ERP, CRM, supply chain, B2B, B2C, B2E, i-commerce, m-commerce they bought everything.

We rolled in it. Stock options, fancy cars, interviews in The Wall Street Journal, photos in Red Herring. One quote in Fast Company? Sorry, you're not in the club until you do Money Line.

And the geeks got theirs, too. Big salaries, job offers glamour, even. Can you imagine?

Sure, we knew it was a bubble. We told one another every day that it had to end. But it went on and on and on. So when it did crash, even though we knew it was coming, we were shocked. We thought there would be a recovery. But it never came. No more upgrades, no new systems. The economy bounced back, but technology stabilized. We stagnated.

Instead of buying IT, users rented. CFOs fired their techs, bare-knuckled ASPs into tough contracts and sent them away feeling like utilities.

The rest of us had to buy and sell one another just to keep busy.

We didn't so much get shoved aside as absorbed. All our best stuff got built into other things. IT became a feature, not a product.

Pens that do e-mail, notebooks that do research; everything's smart. Who cares what chip is in your watch as long as it tells you the weather and when the Des Moines store needs more inventory?

We're not innovators anymore; we're parts suppliers.

And when the paradigm shift did come, we weren't even ready. Nanotech. Biotech. Quantum computing. Smart-ooze manufacturing. Mad scientist stuff, but that's the way the world works now.

We changed it for them once. The world, I mean. Not that anyone remembers.

And all we asked is that they make us rich and powerful and famous. And they did for a while. We were it. They needed us. Then they stopped. Bastards.

Kevin Fogarty is a former Computerworld editor. Contact him at kevinjfogarty@yahoo.com.

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