Why Tech Skepticism Works

By Larry Bonfante  |  Posted 12-10-2009

Many of the people I encounter in IT are what I would lovingly call "gadget guys & gals." Think people who feel like kids on Christmas morning waiting for the new iPhone to come out.

I personally am not a big tinkerer or fan of toys. I do, however, appreciate new technologies and tools that can help me solve business problems and add value for my clients.

When evaluating new technologies, I focus on how they can help me do my job and add value for my organization. To accomplish these objectives, I ask myself a few key questions:

• Is this really something new (rather than a repackaging), and can it be a differentiator for my community?

• Is this a "game changer?"

• How will this fit into our existing architecture/application set?

• Do I have the skill set in-house to support this new technology, or can I access the required talents easily and cost-effectively?

• Is this a bleeding-edge solution? If so, is the reward worth the risk?

• Is there an sponsor who would be willing to pilot this technology with me to help address an existing business need, or is this a solution in search of a problem?

I don't mean to be a wet blanket here, but let's face a few facts.

Even mature technologies go boom sometimes. Job one in IT is to keep the trains running. Only when you do this successfully on a consistent basis will you have the political chips to play at the innovation table and be considered a potential business partner.

If you count on technologies that are not reliable, your credibility will be shot. It takes months and years to earn people's confidence; it only takes a couple of outages to lose it!

I have no problem being a pace setter when this is what's required. We have been on the leading (and sometimes bleeding) edge of innovation on more than a few occasions. For example, due to the unique nature of the U.S. Open, we were the first organization to leverage a network security control product before it was even commercially available.

But each time there was a compelling value proposition that made it worth incurring the necessary risk. It was never because the technology was "cool" or "fun" or "wow."

The other consideration: How are you going to get your people and your clients up to speed on how to use and support these new technologies?

In many cases, the vendors themselves may have only a handful of people who actually know how to use the stuff. Good luck trying to get their attention unless you're throwing millions of dollars their way. Training is an issue that's often overlooked until your help desk gets inundated with calls your people don't know how to answer.

So when evaluating new technologies, I want to know "Why?" before I'm willing to devote the resources to figuring out "How?"

Too many people are focused on how to leverage a new technology without having a tangible value proposition as to why to use it. I am not a big believer in solutions in search of a problem! I am a disciple of Steven Covey's approach to "starting with the end in mind".

Maybe that makes me boring. I guess I won't be the center of attention at the next IT cocktail party. Oh, well...