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RETURN ON TECHNOLOGY: Business isn't losing any sleep over new technology

March 31, 2008

I've been looking over some business polls from 2007 and 2008, and I have to tell you I'm disappointed. As a technology columnist, I'd hoped that companies would be perpetually lathered over all sorts of thorny technical issues that only new purchases could solve and that I could critique. Silly me. But still, I went into the exercise with high hopes. After all, isn't every aspect of a business permeated by breakable, worrisome technology of all kinds? And doesn't every businessperson want some kind of new product or another? And doesn't that augur well for a humble technology columnist?

Purchasing.com's (www.purchasing.com) February survey of small-company worries immediately brought me back down. In order, their results were raw material costs (46 percent), energy costs (18 percent), logistics and supply-chain costs (16 percent), inflation (8 percent), labor (4 percent), foreign competition (3 percent), overhead costs (3 percent) and health care costs (2 percent). Where were the technology pain points, the worries about their supply-chain software?

I moved on to CFO magazine (www.cfo.com). Surely, the nation's CFOs are sweating technology shortcomings. Many CFOs are given responsibility for IT, after all. Their February survey turned up focus on consumer demand (82 percent), cost of labor (73 percent), credit markets (59 percent), cost of fuel (58 percent), health care costs (56 percent), housing-market drop (50 percent), skilled labor shortage (48 percent), regulation (39 percent), cost of non-fuel commodities (30 percent) and currency values (27 percent). Europeans had similar concerns, but added political stability.

Business Know-How (www.businessknowhow.com) conducts small-business surveys on its site, and once again a recent survey showed hardly a drop of sweat over technology. The major things small business was worried about were costs for fuel and health care, getting credit, taxes, foreign competition and a fear of recession. The site quotes one business owner's worst fretting as, "Getting people to spend money."

Even when companies or professional groups are surveyed specifically about technology headaches, the results aren't what you might expect. What's on their minds isn't upgrades, wireless conversions or Microsoft's regrettable dominance of the software industry. No, what they're worried about is how to solidify the plumbing they have and cork up the leaks.

For example, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' (infotech.aicpa.org) annual survey of technology initiatives returned these major planned projects, in order from high to low: information security management, IT governance, business continuity and disaster recovery, privacy management, business process improvement, identity and access management, conforming to compliance standards, business intelligence, mobile and remote computing, and document/knowledge management. In other words, the biggies were security, management of the behemoth, and how to recover from catastrophe. Adding more to the pile was a distant priority.

A similar survey on searchnetworking.comaimed at core IT personnel like network-operations people revealed that the IT workers themselves were primarily worried about disaster recovery and security, but added what they called "voice deployment," which we may know as phone meetings with some video added. They were also somewhat occupied trying to update their decadesold data centers.

After digesting all this, I have to say that, although I'm somewhat surprised by the stern pragmatism these surveys seem to show, I'm no longer disappointed. In fact, I'm encouraged. One of the characteristics of businessfolk that I admire and enjoy is their staunch adherence to a pursuit of what works, rather than to what's promised to work. The very opposite of "cool."

I approve of the attitude radiated by so many businesspeople I know, the sense that they have a job to do, and while anything that assists them in that job is worthwhile, anything that doesn't help them is a distraction and has to go. It keeps them from the cutting edge, true. But it keeps them solvent, and that's the point of the entire exercise. It accords with the mantra I've chanted in a hundred meetings about snazzy new technology: "What will it let you do tomorrow that you can't do today?"

Based on what I've seen in most of the surveys, the people who answered those surveys are entitled to look a little smug.



Altom is an independent local technology consultant. His column appears every other week. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.comor read his blog at usabilitynome.blogspot.com. He can be reached at timaltom@sbcglobal.net.
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