Guest column: Triple threat

My very Irish grandmother was convinced that bad things come in threes. Good things? Well, talking too much about those would bring the Angel of Death to your window. So when it occurred to me last week that IT managers have a trio of megatrends ruling their working lives, I thought ‘Uh-oh.'I tested the theory of threes on several IT folks I came across in my travels. Like most of my grandmother's convictions, the theory got a few laughs. But everyone also agreed that any one of this trio - the Web, the Year 2000 threat and the IT staffing shortage - can be counted on to have a strong and sometimes startling impact on their companies.

Consider the Web's unexpected power to transform a business. A recent convert to this conviction is Bill Merriam, vice-president of information systems at Someday Isle Toys in Brattleboro, Vt. The small specialty toy store last year faced certain demise because of a saturated market and sliding revenue.

So in a last-ditch, save-the-business project, Merriam and a few co-workers raced to create an online toy store (www.somedayisle.com) in time for the Christmas 1997 sales season. They discovered an entirely new market overseas, built repeat customer business with Vermont tourists and even discovered better ways to track inventory. The Economic Angel of Death moved along.

The Year 2000 threat also is refocusing business and technology attention like never before. The chief technology officer at a Houston oil company told me how his firm is targeting its major year 2000 initiatives only at "burning platform" issues. In the oil business, the worst thing that can happen is a fire on an offshore oil platform. So the first thing managers ask is: "Do we have a platform on fire?" The Millennium Angel of Death definitely qualifies.

Finally, I heard a lot of lamenting about raiding of IT staffs by vendors and consulting firms. Even perfectly contented technologists are being lured away. "They just keep coming back at you with better and better offers," one systems manager said. Score one more for the Recruiting Angel of Death. And OK, score another one for my grandmother, too.

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