The above the surface view is obvious. Tremendous absorption has taken place
and a lot of it is good technology. There is some bad technology-the part that
does not deliver. Gartner has in some studies estimated it to be 20% of the
total spend or about $500 billion wasted so far. Twenty percent does not sound
all the big, $500 billion does!
Taking the ‘below the surface’ view, there are a few places where the
scope for enhancement is high. For starters, the term information technology is
completely inadequate. It is the use of technology with computers, other
electronic devices and communications that is essential. Information technology
started as a handmaiden of other organizational processes. Now the other
functions have to become handmaidens of technology. Technology has to run the
business. It may also generate information. The ‘I’ has to be dropped. While
designations have changed and the CIO has become the CXO or the CTO, the
absorption of the concept is cosmetic. There is an urgent need to ban the
designation-CIO. And speed the up the fundamental change that this implies.
The problem has therefore progressed one level up the value chain-and in
the process opened many new opportunities. Business strategies and processes are
starting to get built around technologies-instead of technology supporting
businesses processes. Earlier it used to be-how can I sell my products and get
more information about the process to do it better. Now it is how can I sell
using technology. This is easier said than done. One reason is that compared to
other functional areas in an organization-finance, human resources,
manufacturing and marketing-technology is still a kid. From the advent of
computers to their absorption in organisations has been a maximum of fifty
years. In most organizations the period may be a decade or so. Technology is
exciting and has potential. It is also evolving and therefore does not always
deliver on the potential. It continues to manifest itself in different ways-none
being stable for more than a few years. Standards change, terms are modified,
applications are added and the legacy gets stronger.
The principles of accounting and marketing have remained unchanged in the
time period in which technology has been created and deployed. Consequently they
are more understood, have standard global terminologies, are applied more
homogeneously and have a higher level of comfort associated with them.
Technology understanding, absorption and deployment by contrast is patchy, uses
many terms, has many manifestations and therefore becomes fuzzy and
uncomfortable. To name a few terms in vogue-ERP, CRM, e-commerce, mobile
computing, datawarehousing, on demand applications and many more. Since
technology is also getting decentralized these have to understood by the
functional managers. And here the options themselves become the limitations. The
average functional manager who has to make his business plan as per technology
available simply does not know enough to do so. That results in window shopping
rather than shopping. A lot of glitter, a lot of discussion, a lot of debate but
much less of the action. Enjoyable yes, effective no.
The measurement of technology effectiveness is also a tedious and often
inaccurate process. In many cases technology absorption has a long term benefit.
And the problem is similar to measuring investments on training and advertising?
Training can impart knowledge and skills but people have to make it effective.
Advertising can build brands and generate leads but people have to sell.
Technology can provide the tools but people have to use them. In such contexts
organizations have to work on the belief principle and not the returns principle-a
luxury that the returns driven environment does not support. Imagine a great
meal at a specialty restaurant. The pleasure cannot be quantified. It also
cannot be ignored. You can, of course, measure the time they took to serve the
food and the temperature at which it was served. Doing that takes away the
The author is Editor-in-Chief of CyberMedia, the publishers of Dataquest Shyam