Whenever there are major technology transitions, corporations go through a period in which software developers gain tremendous power. On one hand, it makes sense that those who understand new and complicated technologies need to be out in front. On the other, developers have an agenda that might not align with business objectives. This is where we are today, and it is an uncomfortable time for both IT management and business leaders.
The technologies rippling throughout industries—mobile and cloud computing and big data analytics–are causing dramatic and painful organizational changes. Meanwhile, many IT organizations have to cope with existing applications that are inflexible but necessary to operate the business. These applications can’t easily operate in a new world of mobile, cloud, and social business applications. Compounding these problems is the pace of technology change, which is out of step with the skills of the typical IT organization.
When the gap between innovative new products and available skills is wide (as it is today) business leaders rely on their top software developers to make decisions that will reverberate throughout the organization for years to come.
Developers tend to base those decisions on what tools they find interesting that can increase their own marketability. Sometimes the goals of developers and the goals of the business coincide. Sometimes the coolest technologies don’t necessarily scale or handle changing business demands. And often the tools are too immature to tackle really hard problems. Chief information officers are often at a disadvantage in these situations because they increasingly focus on business issues and less directly with emerging tools and technologies.
What should business leaders do? Inaction is not the answer. Rather, there must be a two-pronged approach. First, it is important that developers gain experience with emerging innovative tools. This will be important to ensure that a company is ready for a new generation of technology that could have profound business benefits.
At the same time, there needs to be oversight. One of the most effective approaches is to set up a task force that includes representatives from the business, IT management, and development. This group needs to have a clear set of criteria to evaluate whether a tool or emerging technology should be the foundation for a strategic business initiative.
What type of criteria would be appropriate? Here are some suggestions:
• Is the proposed technology supported by a stable vendor?
• Does the technology adhere to accepted or emerging industry standards?
• Does the technology allow for migration to other environments if the supplier should fail?
• Does the technology match with business strategy?
• Is the benefit of the emerging technology so compelling that it is worth the risk of standardizing on an unproven technology?
There is no debate about the value and importance of innovative and emerging technologies. These technologies need to be used and well-understood if companies are to gain competitive advantage in complex industries. It’s how these technologies are used—and when they are used—that can make the difference between success and failure.