'It's not about the technology' - yeah, right, it never is

Andrew McAfee: Treating technology as a black box can be costly and disruptive.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

INATT -- "It's not about the technology."

Treating technology as a black box can be costly and disruptive.

How many times have you heard that being said? Or should I ask, how many thousands of times have you heard that being said? This is the mantra that is repeated over and over again, by every analyst and speaker at every conference and in every article you read.  Even vendors chant the INATT mantra.

In his latest column in Forbes, MIT's Andrew McAfee, considered the guru of Enterprise 2.0 , says maybe it's time to stop the chanting. It most certainly is about the technology, he shouts from the rooftop.

Rather than INATT, the "correct but bland" expression should be "It's not about the technology alone," McAfee says. Technology never does anything by itself, it needs management.  Real basic common-sense stuff, he says.

Where INATT becomes dangerous, McAfee says, is the interpretation that "the details of this technology can be ignored for the purposes of this discussion." In other words, treat it as a black box. However, technologies vary and integration projects can become very costly and disruptive if people in the business are oblivious to underlying systems and protocols. Plus, technology-based solutions that can make a difference may get overlooked.

As Jeff Papows and I discussed in our recent Webcast, we now depend on technology for everything, and any glitches can have cascading, or even disastrous, impacts on our organizations and well-being.

As he always does, Andrew McAfee makes a lot of sense. The business had better understand what kind of technology is supporting its operations. But they're never going to care if their data is being delivered across applications via REST protocols or WS-* protocols. And you don't want businesspeople getting sucked into constant breathless (and eye-rolling) claims of “revolutionary” technologies, paradigm shifts, and inflection points. That's why we pay IT people, analysts and architects the big bucks -- to understand what works, what doesn't work, and where technology can help the business.

No one should expect IT to be solely responsible for a company’s rise or fall. Adroit management, supported by the right IT tools, makes the difference. A company that smartly and innovatively leverages its IT in new and creative ways will move to the head of the pack. Yes, it's probably more correct to say "it's not about the technology alone." An enterprise architect or business analyst can show the business what it needs to understand to move forward -- they are the natural barrier between need-to-know and tech information overload.

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