Use the right technology, at the right time

Properly distinguishing between hype and reality around new technologies, before adopting them, can make a difference to a company's competitive advantage.
Written by Sol E. Solomon, Contributor

The implementation of new technologies can bring great business benefits to companies. However, to ensure the right technology is adopted at the right time, organizations must establish processes that help them evaluate hype from reality, say experts.

Michael Barnes, vice president of software and Asia-Pacific research at Springboard Research, advised that new technology should be adopted only when there is a clearly defined, well understood, agreed-upon, and ultimately, measurable business benefit.

"In the current economic climate, technology that can help drive cost savings, improved efficiencies, process visibility and information access will be in high demand," Barnes told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.

When considering technology investments, IT and business decision makers must always start with a "fundamental reality that IT is always a means to an end, not an end in itself", he said.

"In fact, from a business standpoint, IT has no inherent value at all. The value of IT is in how it is leveraged for business benefit," he noted.

Patrick Chan, Asia-Pacific chief technology advisor of emerging technologies research at IDC, agreed that opting for new technology without first aligning these to the business needs will end in failure. Many service oriented architecture (SOA) projects fell short primarily because this alignment was not taken, Chan said in an e-mail interview.

According to Barnes, based on current industry hype, all organizations should have a virtualization strategy "when in fact this makes no sense at all".

"Virtualization is not a distinct objective with quantifiable value," he explained. "It is an approach to achieving other goals, including cost reduction through more efficient resource utilization, particularly in the data center, as well as improved flexibility, particularly in terms of delivering applications or services as required by the business."

"Organizations must therefore first prioritize their business requirements and objectives, and then determine whether or not virtualization can help address them," the Springboard analyst said.

Watch and learn
To distinguish between the hype and reality, Andrew Rowsell-Jones, vice president and research director of executive programs worldwide at Gartner Australasia, advised organizations to look at the track records of emerging technologies.

Companies should also find out what new technologies their competitors and other organizations are using, how they are getting on with these technologies, and then evaluate them, Rowsell-Jones told ZDNet Asia in an interview.

"Most CIOs have peer groups. You would use your peer-group network and analysts to test out the application or the vendor," he said. "There's no easy way of doing it because every application and piece of technology is different. You have to assess the usual things like financial viability, technical viability, and ask if it has a road map."

IDC's Chan suggested user organizations also closely watch how standards industry bodies view new technologies. He noted that standards are a good gauge to distinguish between reality and hype.

Barnes said the availability of skills is another major consideration when determining the use of emerging technologies, particularly when evaluating a technology early in the hype cycle.

"This is particularly critical in the Asia-Pacific region where vendors, particularly smaller vendors with new and potentially exciting products or technology, are less likely to have local delivery and/or support capabilities, [thus] placing greater risk on the customer."

According to Chan, the right time to adopt a new technology is when the user organization has a dedicated support mechanism in place, such as staff who are assigned to work with specific vendors and are armed with knowledge on the latest technology features and trends.

"Evaluating too early in the hype cycle wastes valuable resources such as time and effort, [as] user organizations will not have a good pool of vendors to choose from and often will have to revisit the evaluation phase later," he said. "Service offerings and support structures usually mature after the hype cycle, where differentiation and choices will emerge."

Generally, Rowsell-Jones noted, large organizations tend not to be early adopters if the new technology is deployed to support mission-critical applications.

"For systems that are fundamental to your business, you tend to be much more careful about innovation. Before you introduce a core piece, you tend to try it more and you tend to make it go through rigorous testing," he said. "Of course there is the risk of being too late, but…for most organizations, they can afford to be fast followers, and they don't need to be at the cutting edge."

Chan said early adopters that are successful in implementing new technology can create competitive advantage for their businesses. However, he emphasized it is salient that user organizations realize also that there are risks involved where, for instance, new products or services lack maturity.

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