When the
Microsoft .NET Framework was new—well, two years old—a freelancing colleague of
mine found himself in a shop where the manager would have nothing else. This
particular shop had hired my friend as point man for the rewrite of a static
client-server app that was growing by leaps and bounds, and needed to become a
scalable distributed app. My friend brought a veritable arsenal of useful
skills to the table, particularly in the area of distributed applications architecture,
and tried to tout the virtues of Enterprise Java Beans.

Nope, it
had to be .NET, my friend was told. Why, he asked? For every reason put forth,
my friend raised a concern. The manager brought the discussion to a close with
one final justification: “Because,” he said, “it’s cool!”

It’s cool

Don’t get
me wrong, there are many technologies that I, too, think are cool, and it’s fine for an IT manager to hold such opinions. But to
make “cool” a reason to conform to a single technology is one of the
most dangerous things an IT manager can do.

In today’s
environment, especially with the advent of service-oriented architecture and
rapidly proliferating client technologies, nothing you do today will be intact
36 months from now. The IT manager must cultivate an atmosphere of perpetual
change. And the manager who adheres to software brand loyalty blindly runs a
terrible risk with a company’s most critical assets.

Here are some important considerations

The rate of
process evolution in the marketplace is outpacing the rate of development of
any single software technology. This is a consequence of having moved the Internet
to center-stage. The Internet has created possibilities for achieving
coordination and acceleration of business processes that were undreamed of a
mere decade ago; it has opened up modes of marketing, and channels of access to
products and services that are vastly superior to what existed before; and it
is a free-for-the-taking infrastructure available to all, upon which new
inter-company infrastructure may be easily constructed.

And since
the Internet more or less belongs to everyone, and is so freely available, all
of the processes above are evolving at a rate that no single participant can
control. It has leveled the playing field, and with more players, there is much
more innovation. And since the Internet is technology-agnostic, not even mighty
Microsoft can slow the business world down to a rate of growth more in line
with its own leviathan plodding.

What does
this mean? To begin with, no one technology platform is setting the pace. It’s
long since ceased to be a Big Blue universe, and Windows aside, it will never
be colored Redmond. Instead, innovative new business processes are
leap-frogging forward at a speed that leaves even the largest technology
sources filling only those gaps that leverage the technology they already have.

Are you an IT management zealot?

Do you think Java rules and .NET drools? Do you turn a deaf ear to your staff when
they suggest there are merits to Enterprise JavaBeans? Perhaps you
communication skills aren’t what they should be. Find out how well you
communicate by taking the recently updated

TechRepublic IT Managers Quiz
. After
you take the quiz, join the ongoing discussion at the end of this article
to suggest more questions we
should ask. We want to extend the quiz with questions you think should be asked.

Taking your
company—and your partner companies—to their own unique leading edge of process
development, then, means opening your mind (and your IT shop) to more than one
development technology, and putting your creative acumen not into brand
loyalty, but into interoperability. In this way, you don’t harness your rate of
growth to that of a single software company, and you enable possibilities for
innovative process improvements that are not achievable with any one platform
(and—perhaps more importantly—you may greatly increase the speed at which you
can develop your systems).

loyalty to a single technology source can cost you your critical edge. When an
IT manager has consistently endorsed a single technology source, and equipped
the company with that technology for years, then the manager’s reputation is to
a large degree tied to that infrastructure. Like a politician touting positions,
or a scientist seeking follow-on funding, the IT manager’s personal stake in
that infrastructure can exceed the company’s well-being itself in importance.
It becomes, unfortunately, an embodiment of the manager’s achievements and
judgment, which should in theory transcend such details.

When this
line is crossed, it becomes anathema to the manager to hear anything bad about
the technology. An attack upon an upcoming release of something new from the
technology provider becomes an attack upon the manager. A deaf ear develops,
and the manager’s agenda will be justification, not critical evaluation. This
is a terrible position to be in! An IT manager making critical design
decisions, who chooses the enabling technology for implementing those
decisions, should always greet the next big thing with skepticism, and choose
from a carefully-considered array of options for bringing about major system
changes and process improvements. Anything less places your company’s greatest
assets at risk!

Limited thinking

only one technology language can limit you to one way of thinking. Linguists
will tell you that speakers of different languages have diverse styles of
conceptualization. A native German speaker will have a manner of
conceptualizing that will have subtle differences from that of a native Chinese
speaker (plug in any two languages, the idea holds). Similarly, the frameworks
behind the major software development technologies carry with them a certain
set of conceptual predispositions, and blind adherence to these predispositions
can limit a designing manager’s thinking considerably.

What this
leads to is an environment wherein a developer can come to the manager with an
innovative design concept, and even present it in a platform-independent
manner; but since the concept itself (something like, say, stateful
components) isn’t inherently part of the manager’s favored platform, the
manager never even considers the concept, even if it can be easily implemented
within the existing infrastructure. The manager isn’t just rejecting technology—”Don’t
say ‘Dot Net’ to me, I’m Java all the way!”—the manager is rejecting ideas
before they even have a chance to be presented. Taken to an extreme, such
conversations have the appalling and unproductive tone of religious debates,
where one side is gospel and the other side is heresy. And isn’t this a foolish
way to make business decisions?

What can
you do? If you have a brand name zealot in your house, step up the justification
process a notch or two. Don’t settle for “leveraging our existing
assets,” or “incompatible with our existing platform” as an
answer. These answers aren’t answers anymore; the very Internet that set this
grand platform competition in motion also has forced interoperability as a
mission-critical feature of all software development technologies. Make your
manager do more homework, and be relentless in requiring the same justification
for a brand-loyal decision that you’d require of a new technology decision.

And go a
step further, insisting on a presentation of options for major design decisions
and supporting software implementations. The cost of this is some of your
zealot manager’s time; but the pay-off could be a major leap forward with a
hybrid technology solution that opens doors for many others.