CIO view: Balancing the blessing and curse of shiny objects

Today's CIO must embrace the consumerization of IT while ensuring that business runs smoothly in the future. It's a tough challenge.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

Photo credit Michael Krigsman: The original shiny object

Photo credit by Michael Krigsman: The original shiny object

Many enterprise software people love shiny new objects -- we are attracted to surface appearances while de-valuing substantive function. As the Biblical story of the apple suggests, the lure of seductive appearance is not new.

In today's enterprise world, in which software procurement is increasingly decentralized due to the cloud, balancing seductive end-user tools against corporate standards is an important CIO challenge. The issue becomes more profound as users demand even greater independence from centralized IT departments.

When discussing shiny new technology, end-user adoption is a particularly compelling topic. While it's certainly true that new features and cool user interfaces encourage users to adopt technology as never before, there is also a darker side. Although the new technology can solve current problems, it may also cause unexpected downstream disruption to business processes. This fear of disruption explains why IT is often risk averse; it's the CIO's job to worry about potential future disruptions to the business.

To explore this important topic, I invited Vijay Vijayasankar to write a guest post here on ZDNet. Although Vijay and I sometimes disagree sharply (for example, see his post on rapid implementation), I hold his views in high esteem. Vijay's perspectives are balanced, thoughtful, and respectful -- a great combination.

Vijay Vijayasankar is an Associate Partner and Head of Forward Engineering for IBM's global SAP consulting practice. In this role, Vijay advises IBM on prioritizing innovations that come from SAP; he frequently provides customer feedback to senior SAP executives including CEO Jim Snabe, CTO Vishal Sikka, and President of SAP Global Solutions, Sanjay Poonen. Over the last 15 years, he has managed numerous enterprise engagements with Fortune 500 companies across Asia, Europe, and North America. Vijay is an SAP Mentor and often presents at conferences on enterprise software topics. Vijay maintains two blogs here and here. Follow him on twitter @vijayasankarv.

Thank you to Vijay for writing this guest post.


CIO view: Balancing the blessing and curse of shiny objects

This post represents my personal opinions and not those of my employer.

Technology doesn't have to be rock solid for buyers or users to adopt it. It just needs to be better than the next best alternative and solve a big, short-term problem. By big, I mean the pain must be great enough for the buyer to dismiss potential future risks or shortcomings stemming from the new technology.

For example, in the 90s, SAP R/3 was far from perfect yet it was widely adopted. Why? For companies creating "core ERP" functionality, by getting different systems to work together, R/3 was light years ahead of other available options. As a result, R/3 was "better, faster, and cheaper" than alternatives. The problem was so important, and the pain of getting different systems to work together so great, that customers, system integrators, and SAP often did crazy things to make it work. Even though many customers knew they would pay a high price in the future when it came time to upgrade the system, the short-term benefits made future upgrade worthwhile. In addition, R/3's notoriously crowded UI was still easier to use than combining different non-integrated systems.

Fast forward to the last few years and we see smaller cloud vendors such as Workday and salesforce.com leading the market in specific segments. Why? Because just as SAP R/3 was "better, faster, cheaper" in the 90s, these companies provide their market segments with better alternatives today. However, all Is not perfect because history suggests that customers of these companies will eventually face the pain of dealing with multiple vendors, integrating cloud applications with on-premise software, and so on. Nonetheless, the prospect of future integration pain has not dampened interest in software as a service (SaaS). As with the early days of SAP, the current benefits of SaaS and cloud outweigh future inconvenience.

The importance of present benefit relative to future pain is also true in the consumer world. Despite being a Blackberry mobile phone user since the beginning, when the iPhone came out I bought it despite knowing about problems with iTunes and terrible battery life; I even bought my wife an iPhone. Even though I hate the iPhone's calendar functionality and it has more limitations on the work front than I care to list, I won't go back. The iPhone's benefits over the Blackberry outweigh the pain and hassle of the older platform.

Disruption equals pain is a simple constant in enterprise world. Most companies will not endure that pain without a corresponding wow factor: no sizzle means no deal.

To be successful, vendors selling new shiny technology must wow the right people in the buyer's organization. That might be offering the finance person a "deal that can't be refused," supporting a line of business executive whose analysts cry "IT doesn't get it," offering a CIO "services thrown in for cheap as goodwill" as encouragement to buy unproven beta software, or giving a procurement buyer "the best discount in the industry." All these examples demonstrate ways to help enterprise buyers overcome the business disruption that occurs when introducing new technology into an organization.

The CIO Challenge »»

The CIO challenge. In the enterprise, the disruption caused by change is a significant inhibitor of technology adoption among users. Although the wow factor is important, sophisticated enterprise buyers must worry about user adoption when considering technology purchases. This is an important agenda item for CIOs, especially when colleagues in the lines of business tell the CIO that IT just throws systems at them. When the business side believes it is better off managing technology on its own, without IT, the problem becomes even worse.

For technology buyers, this creates a chicken and egg situation. Although slick custom demos and crazy deals create a technology wow factor, which of course buyers find attractive, these surface attributes can distract attention from long-term considerations such as data center readiness, security, scalability, integration, localization, and so on. This tension explains the angst around the so-called consumerization of IT: users prefer sexy tools but IT must still deliver a consistent, secure experience across the entire organization.

Although there are no easy answers, enterprise buyers must carefully dissect deals to differentiate between short-term sizzle and long-term impact. Balancing these considerations is the best way to gain benefit in the present while minimizing pain the future. And that's why the CIO's job is hard.


Thank you to Vijay for writing this guest post. My Asuret colleague, Lisbeth Shaw, edited this post.

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