The new new thing may not be all it


The IT industry needs to spend less time trying to figure out what the next new thing is, and more time on that “old” thing it never quite got right.

After unsuccessfully avoiding a series of phone calls, I recently found myself, in a moment of weakness, answering a survey on media perceptions of the IT industry. Though reluctant at first to participate, I actually found it kind of interesting and was happy enough to answer questions such as, is the tech industry dishonest. Answer – yes and no, it depends on which company you’re talking about. But when asked what I thought the next big trend in IT was going to be, I found myself unwilling to answer.

It occurred to me we spend much too much time in this industry trying to figure out, and stay on top of, the next big thing, and jumping from one bandwagon to the next. As a result, we seem unable to learn from our past mistakes. The dot-com bust, for instance, has taught us nothing.

A few years back everyone was bending over backwards to dot-com their business. Long-established organizations, once considered stalwarts, were suddenly thought of as old-fashioned brick and mortars with shaky foundations. Teenagers found themselves dot-com millionaires overnight, and the irksome phrase “The Internet changes everything” was bandied about. Every business rushed to get itself online for fear of falling prey to a newfangled dot-commer. But the consumers, for the most part, weren’t interested and the Internet, as it turns out, didn’t change everything.

But the sobering effects of the dot-com bust didn’t last long.

Those shaking their heads at the folly of the dot-com era were soon talking about the promise of pervasive computing and software as a service. We were going to be able to walk up to any computer at any time and access any document we wanted. We were soon going to be able to start our coffee makers from our cars, surf the Internet from our fridges and have sensors on our toilets connected to our doctors’ offices (yes, this is an actual example one vendor gave as a demonstration of the power of pervasive computing). The Internet, we were told, was going to become as ubiquitous as electricity and be available anytime, anywhere.

Currently, everyone is pushing the promise of Web services, even though there’s still a lot of confusion about its definition. Many of the standards still have to be ironed out, and the major vendors are just starting to learn how to play together, but one hardly hears any mention of the red flags. As with every other trend in the IT industry, there’s a lot of enthusiasm but very little questioning about whether or not we’re ready for this and whether this is really the direction we want to head in.

Everyone is ready to set sail for a new horizon. Never mind that most companies are still struggling to get yesterday’s big technology solutions – such as CRM packages – implemented. Never mind that most IT projects are considered failures. Never mind that employees and consumers alike always seem to resist change, everyone is in a hurry to embrace the newest, the latest, the greatest. Think about your ERP suite – is it doing what you thought it would?

Companies would probably do better to get a handle on what they currently have in the works before taking on new, more ambitious projects.