Best Technology Is Not Always the Best Choice

BOSTON (06/05/2000) - I am not an engineer, nor do I have any pretense to be one. I view technology from a business functionality perspective, which many times causes some conflicts between me and the technical personnel I manage. In many cases, the most elegant technology is not the best business choice.

Examples of this abound. Token ring is technically superior to Ethernet, but Ethernet has won in terms of market share. ATM is far better for integrated services than Fast or Gigabit Ethernet, but I don't believe many firms are seriously considering implementing desktop ATM. Open Systems Interconnection-based networking was more robust than TCP/IP, but TCP/IP is now the dominant standard. Novell Inc. Directory Services is more mature than Active Directory and currently a better choice for global enterprise networks, but most corporations today are actively engaged in implementing Windows NT/2000 for their international network infrastructures. IPv6 is a more robust and elegant implementation of IP, but I think IPv4 will be around for a long time.

In short, the best technology is not always the best business decision. Many factors have to be considered when choosing business-based strategic technologies. Items such as market share, installed customer base and implementation/conversion costs have to be analyzed. Also, the risks of adopting new technologies - including interruption and/or change of current business practices and potential loss of productivity during implementation - need to be reviewed.

We need to remember that businesses do not exist for technology. Rather, technology exists for businesses. If adopting a certain technology will incur more expenses and/or risks than benefits received, then the technology probably should not be adopted no matter how technically elegant it is.

Unless a technology brings needed functionality that cannot be met by current products, resolves specific problems a business is facing or positions the company for future growth, management needs to seriously question the reasons for adopting the technology. The best technologies for a business are the ones that meet the company's needs, position it for growth, ensure an appropriate return on investment, are supportable with available workforce, are fiscally responsible and have a proven record.

These are not always the most elegant or sophisticated technologies. This is sometimes hard for technical people to understand; however, management needs to help them understand. Through sponsored training, companies need to instill in their technical staff a comprehension of business needs and constraints. And technical staff need to accept this training just as they would accept the opportunity to gain additional certifications.

By combining the expertise of their technical staff with basic business acumen, companies can better use these technical resources to ensure the most appropriate technologies and strategies are chosen. By adding basic business knowledge to their technology skills, technical personnel can ensure they will be seen as a valued resource making important contributions to the success of their companies.

Yoke is an IS manager in Denver. He can be reached at ckyoke@yahoo.com.

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