As Marriott International's Steve Wolf watched a recent documentary on the setbacks in development of the world's first jet fighter, he saw some striking parallels to modern-day corporate innovation and competition.
The Messerschmitt ME 262, the German jet aircraft that might have given the Nazis aerial superiority in World War II, stalled in development as government officials withheld funding, betting--incorrectly--that their existing air fleet would win the skies. That decision, says Wolf, the hotel operator's chief enterprise architect, resembles the difficulties today's businesses face in deciding how quickly to invest in emerging technologies.
Becoming an early adopter of new technologies requires companies to take significant risks--grappling with unproven tools and vendors that may not survive, for instance--in the hopes of getting an edge on the competition. But stalling those investments based on fear, uncertainty or confidence in existing technologies, or worse, doing nothing at all, can destroy a company's ability to compete. "Some organizations will be successful and some won't," Wolf says, "but they wouldn't be successful if they just watched it go by."
Adopting emerging technologies appears to pay off, and on the face of it, sooner rather than later. More than 90 percent of respondents to CIO Insight's latest Emerging Technologies Survey who claimed to be early adopters said their companies saw significant payoff from adopting emerging technologies. Meanwhile, about three in four mainstream adopters (businesses that lag behind early adopters) replied in kind, while less than half of late adopters realized benefits from emerging technologies. (See survey results, page 27.) By those results, it's easy to assume that diving in early yields the biggest splash. But success as an early adopter requires a process of evaluating risks and potential rewards, testing, planning and ultimately deploying the technologies. And even then, it demands a leap into the unknown.
Still, despite different strategies for emerging technology adoption, IT executives and academics say one thing is clear: Reliance on new technologies is risky, and companies should implement them primarily to create competitive advantage or solve critical business needs.