Frankly Speaking

Making winners!

Let's cut to the chase here: what makes a winner? Who's going to be the next Microsoft, the next Netscape, the next Palm Computing? We want to know because the winners will be the companies that define the next generation or two of information technology. If you can spot what makes a winner, you've got a front-row ticket to the future of IT.

I can't tell you which emerging companies will win big. Neither can any other pundit or consultant or industry blowhard. Funny thing is, that doesn't matter. What will matter is identifying which emerging vendors and products and technologies will give your company a competitive edge -- will make you a winner.

So how do you figure that out? You know the drill: you need products that will do something useful for your organisation, from companies that won't collapse or suddenly change direction and leave you orphaned. A little research, ordinary due diligence, will tell you who makes the first cut on your own list of emerging companies.

Then comes the tricky part. Because whether a product will be a winner or loser for your IT shop depends less on the product or technology and more on how you put it into play.

Start out by thinking both bigger and smaller. Think bigger in terms of the return you expect to get. You're taking a risk on a new product, an untried technology. Don't make it a gamble with a low payoff. Look for ways to get a major advantage over your direct competitors. You want to leapfrog the competition, not inch ahead of it.

Think smaller in the new technology's scope of impact. You want a big improvement in a specific, well-defined business function. That's where cutting-edge technology can make an important difference in cost and capability. Keep the focus small to make the impact big.

Next, be both more cautious and more aggressive. Don't take chances alone on this already risky technology play. Get firm buy-in from the business managers who will eventually depend on it. Make sure you know exactly what they'll need and expect. Demand a clear picture of what the vendor will be able to deliver -- and how fast you'll be able to put it into production. You don't want politics or misunderstanding to torpedo this one.

Test your pilot project hard. Kick it all over your IT shop, and make sure real users can kick it just as hard. And nail down expectations, rollout plans, training plans, budget issues and executive sign-off before anything gets a green light.

Then make it happen -- fast. Don't let anyone turn it into a slow, leisurely rollout. You want a blisteringly aggressive transformation for what these users are doing. Remember, you're looking for business advantage and a quick payoff. The faster it comes out of the chute, the longer you'll have before your competitors catch up.

Finally, make this project both more open and more secret. Open up the decision-making process to include your business managers and users. Their support will make the difference between success and failure -- or indifferent acceptance that barely justifies the cost, effort and risk of emerging technology.

Also, your company's reputation gets a boost from spreading the word early that you're cutting edge. But hot new technology is a secret weapon. Keep it under wraps until you're ready to spring it big.

And when you do, you'll already have made your own winner. wFrank Hayes, Computerworld's staff columnist, has covered IT for 20 years. His e-mail address is

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