How to be less stupid in 2009

The title of this post was going to be 'How to be more smart in 2009' but three things changed my mind. First up several of my Twitter followers 'voted' for the 'less stupid' title, second several posts I saw in catching up on New Year reading had me groaning and lastly, as my Irregular colleague Jason Wood frequently reminds me, enterprise software buyers often make irrational decisions.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

The title of this post was going to be 'How to be more smart in 2009' but three things changed my mind. First up several of my Twitter followers 'voted' for the 'less stupid' title, second several posts I saw in catching up on New Year reading had me groaning and lastly, as my Irregular colleague Jason Wood frequently reminds me, enterprise software buyers often make irrational decisions. So...with tongue firmly planted in cheek (sort of) and with advance apologies to anyone who might be offended; here goes:

Forget Windows 7. Despite the ongoing ping pong match between Jason Perlow and anyone he can bait including the 400+ people (to date) who had nothing better to do January 1st other than beat up Ed Bott, Windows 7  will have almost zero impact in the enterprise because no-one who uses Windows cares about a new UI. As has been shown in the 'ribbon' menu debacle of Office 2007, no-one will likely want it. It's an operating system fercrissakes. These should be invisible. So lobby Steve Ballmer, tell him to shove it or bring back the XP UI as a switchable alternative. For the record, I think Jason is right when he says:

...or all of its performance improvements and bling, is essentially one big service deluxe pack for Windows Vista.

Watch what's going on in open source and learn. Ray Wang recently upgraded his Wordpress site and learned a lot along the way. He's cleverly parsed this to lessons for anyone with an open source apps strategy. Such as:

Test, test, test. This goes without saying.  You can never test enough.  Key approach is to test in isolated parts as widgets, themes, and other new code is introduced.  If you can find automated testing tools, put them to use!

Yeah right. And if you're even thinking of buying into the new SAP support scheme then don't believe the 'no testing' mantra trotted out by the company's CEO, Leo Apotheker at last year's TechEd. Applying any patch or upgrade is going to require extensive regression testing. Make it a policy. After all, SAP likes to think it is 'open' so treat its code accordingly.

Get an RSS device implanted with Mike Krigsman's IT Project Failures blog. Have you ever known anyone who could get a long running blog based on the simple premise that IT projects mostly suck? Yet they do. Mike has and is essentially repeating the same story with different factual twists. The advantage of having a device implanted is that there will be one of several outcomes.

  1. Sooner or later the penny will drop about what it takes to run a successful project
  2. You'll be regrogrammed to think about success something along the lines of Harry Palmer in the IPCRESS file - although aficianados of the film will also know the attempt to reprogram our Harry failed.
  3. You'll go nuts and choose a less mind crippling career

If you're an enterprisey type then read Robert Scoble. I know Robert and I like him a great deal. He's always willing to learn, rolls with the punches and likes to put his neck on the line. I admire that. But seriously, holding out the likes of GoogleApps and Zoho as delivering enterprise disruption is ummm...interesting. I'm a huge fan of Zoho especially but there are far bigger fish to fry. As my friend Vinnie Mirchandani said on a later Scoble post about collaboration stuff as a disrputor:

Much as I like what these tools are doing they don’t help companies trade, control manufacturing or logistics, or cut payroll or do global accounting or design products or manage customer relationships.

It is a category of collaboration tools that does itself a disservice by over defining itself as “the” enterprise.

It is a small sliver of the enterprise…

Think about how the so-called Enterprise 2.0 tools are going to change your business. Of themselves they will add a smidegeon of value but don't get caught up in the hype. The noise levels in SiliconValley are deafening as vendors left and right tell us the new dawn of the social graph is just around the corner if only we use the latest shiny new object. Recognize that we're in the equivalent of the fashion industry and think about the realities. For anything carrying the E2.0 moniker, substitute 'collaboration.' Collaboration is not new and while there are plenty of compelling economic reasons to work collaboratively, remember that of themselves, the tools won't do it for you. Better still, implant another RSS device and subscribe to Oliver Marks blog. He'll tell you about the cultural problems associated with change. These represent the biggest barriers to success, they're not going away any time soon but they must be tackled.

If you're a geek, teach the suits something new. If you're a suit, then understand at least some of these guys know more than you do about running a business. The geeks v suits debate has been going on more years than I care to remember. Its time is done. Last year I spent three months or so with some super smart geeks on a wee project. It was incredibly instructive. I could often articulate half an answer to a perceived problem but it was the geeks who brought it to life. Right at the back end of the year I attended a couple of technical conferences and once again learned more from the geek side of the house. If you're a suit, involve some geeks in business decision making. They know what sucks and where money is being wasted far better than most suits. They see it in the dumb upgrades they've been asked to implement.

Don't get stuck in the cloud. There are plenty of people pitching cloud computing as the next big thing and maybe they're right. But recognize that this is only one facet of enterprise computing. Just cuz we can do it doesn't always mean we should and despite the column inches to the contrary, Google and Amazon are not the center of the universe. I don't see too many CFO's giving up their precious financial apps to some cloud provider anytime soon. But hang on. That's an illogical statement. Check out the amount of process outsourcing going on via the likes of IBM and it soon becomes obvious that however you want to define The Cloud, we've been doing it for years. Think instead of _aaS. Service based computing offers the opportunity to move away from capex to opex. Given the state of the global economy that should be a no brainer. Even so, pick your targets carefully. Better still, watch how Phil Wainewright parses the various issues as the year unfolds. He's been _aaS'ing around with this stuff for many years and is an excellent source of reference.

I could go on but I hope you're getting the drift. 2009 is reality check year. 2008 was a lot of fun but this is the year when IT really needs to look at itself and ask what it can do best to deliver value back to the business. It has been doing so in pockets here and there. Business needs to stop treating IT like a bunch of journeyman plumbers and realize that without many of these people, we wouldn't have the ability to be faster and smarter.

Buying into the Big Brands is always the apparent least risk option in an economy where budgets are being squeezed. However, I think that there is plenty to be gained from squeezing value from what you already have or looking at lower cost, more agile best in class alternatives. There are some huge fish to fry like the spiraling cost of telecommunications, the constant forced upgrade march of software that adds very little depth, the endless 'we can do it better if only...' stuff that consultants ram down buyers' throats. That need not stop IT departments from experimenting. As Larry Dignan pointed out, you can try a lot of 'stuff' for very little money these days. But as Mike Gotta reminded me:

...pilots come and go (especially given current economic conditions). Production deployments are a better yardstick.

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