Guest Opinion

Seize the Technological Advantage

Adopting great technologies early can lead to a profound competitive advantage, but you have to choose your technologies sensibly.

It pays to be an early adopter. The sooner you adopt a new technology—provided it's practical, worthy, and relevant—the longer you can leverage your strategic advantage before parity sets in. The converse also holds true. If you're slow to seize an available advantage, you can lose momentum, including market share, customers, and even your shirt.

Unfortunately, it's much harder to spot, vet, and get buy-in for a technology when it's still new, rather than once it becomes ubiquitous. For starters, new ideas tend to keep a low profile. When your friends get new iPods or PDAs, they're eager to show them off. In business, the last thing your competitors want to do when they find an advantage is to clue you in.

I've given a lot of thought to these issues because I lead a company that makes an emerging technology that I think will revolutionize application problem resolution, akin to "flight recorders" for enterprise applications. Just as aircraft "black boxes" revolutionized air safety by recording flight events to pinpoint the causes of problems, these software "black boxes" capture real-time application execution events while applications are running. When problems arise, the black box provides a forensic "trouble log" that can be replayed to swiftly pinpoint the root cause. Without black boxes, solving problems typically requires you to replicate problem behavior in the lab through speculative, brute-force methodology.

Black-box technology is a good idea, but good ideas don't always take initially. The benefits of adopting early can be staggering, but you have to consider your arguments carefully if you want reap the benefits in your company.

Do your homework. Once you uncover a promising technology or service, approach its source with equal helpings of interest and skepticism. There is a difference between "bleeding edge" and "leading edge." Ask vendors for case studies. Talk with industry analysts. Check out the examples provided. Ask yourself if they're truly enterprise-quality examples and how many people were really affected by the case study. For example, it's common to cite case studies that were little more than one- or two-man projects that were isolated completely from the company's core business.

Worthy partners will be able to provide you with the ammunition you need for your next step and relevant examples, not test cases. For example, I'd point you to a telecom company using black-box technology that recently solved an online billing system problem in less than an hour that would typically have required 140 man-hours to solve. Or I'd point you to an insurance company that had been stymied by a payables application problem for more than a month, yet was able to solve the problem with black-box playback software in less than two hours.

Make a business case. When you've done your homework, you're positioned to propose a course of action that your company can't afford not to take. New, unplanned expenditures always compete for slices of a finite pie. If you have found a truly worthy technology or methodology, you'll be able to make a case that your proposal expands the pie through efficiency gains, cost reductions, and so on.

For example, black-box technology can deliver such benefits by shrinking application problem resolution from weeks or days to hours or minutes, delivering ROI quickly and freeing developers to spend less time firefighting and more time pursuing strategic initiatives. The telecom company I mentioned experienced a hard ROI of 250 percent in the first year, with a payback period of four and a half months. The insurance company achieved ROI in less than three months. It's much easier to sell your company on an idea when the benefit is concrete, truly measurable, and easily explained.

Take action. When the facts as you know them support your enthusiasm for a product, then your spirited advocacy can help your company seize the advantage of using it early. It's important to search out new ideas aggressively and to scrutinize them thoroughly. Then, get them the hearing they deserve. Information Technology has the opportunity and responsibility to add value to the business—to innovate and lead—as well as to operate and steward. Seizing the technological advantage is key to this imperative.

About the Author

Yue Xu is a senior Web systems analyst at Reed Business Information in Morris Plains, N.J. Reach Yue at [email protected].

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