CXO

Learned lessons from early IT adoption

How quickly do you implement new technology into your production environment?  Do you wait for a few Fortune 500 companies to integrate it first before jumping on board, or do you help lead the way and tout your company as one that stays on the cutting edge of technology?  The answer lies with the leadership of your company and the risks they're willing to take. 

Some companies just like to be first; first to announce a new product line, first to boast about company accolades, and the first on the block to use the latest technology innovations.  The CIOs of these companies were probably the same kids in high school who cut in line.  Now, they’re steering businesses and getting ahead by utilizing the newest IT trends.  Or are they setting trends?

Being first is especially important if you work in a highly competitive service oriented industry such as healthcare.  Announcing to the world that you can perform a service faster, better and safer than the competition is a huge competitive advantage.  Customers adopt vendors to call their own as much as vendors attempt to hang onto the customers they already have.  A certain level of comfort and commitment is achieved, so prying even one customer away from the competition can be a tough assignment.  Touting new technology is often used as the competitive edge executives are looking for. 

Knee-jerk moves to newer IT technologies can have ill effects too though.  Sometimes it’s not good to be first, no matter the marketing spin and media chatter.  Take Clark Material Handling Company for instance.  In the late 90s, the then CIO made the decision to migrate the company’s aging mainframe-based ERP system to a Silicon Graphics system running Baan software with an Informix database (I know, it’s still painful to say today).  This was the first time ever that the Baan ERP system was installed on SGI hardware.  Much press coverage was given to the CIO and Clark in the industry and IT trade magazines.  However, it did not go smoothly and never ran as reliably as expected, costing the CIO his job and the company millions of dollars in support fees.  The decision ultimately ended in the company filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy three years later.  Other factors went into the filing, of course, but it began with that initial decision to be first (I should point out that Clark eventually recovered after restructuring their operations).

Clark was an extreme example and somewhat dated, you say.  Plug in your own example using newer technology.  Maybe you have your own personal illustration.  Many companies were early adopters of voice over IP (VoIP), and attempted voice and data convergence.  Most of the initial implementations succeeded, but not without costs and lessons learned.  Reliability was especially problematic.  But sometimes it’s not the new technology that is the problem it is the other supporting technologies.  In the case of VoIP, it was QoS that needed to evolve before it could become truly reliable.  Other similar cases can be made for open-source migrations and server and application virtualization software.  Early adopters accept the risks with the rewards. 

So what am I saying, don’t stay at the forefront of the improvements IT has to offer businesses?  No, of course not.  I am simply reminding you to do your research and examine the valuable lessons learned by other companies, even if it is not the exact same technology in question.  The most often sited cause of implementation failure is not the new IT advancement, but the lack of planning.  Assign a taskforce and commit the resources required to get the job done right the first time.  Pay a third party to perform a thorough site analysis, and get an upfront vendor commitment to see the implementation through to the end.  Don’t let being first be the reason your plan fails.  Let it be a positive example for how to do it right.

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