Business Technology: Acting--And Wishing--Upon A Rising Bubble
Two thoughts came to mind late last week as I read about the spectacular economic performance the U.S. economy racked up in the third quarter. The first was the bromide often cited as an old Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." And the second was, "Be careful what you wish for--you might get it."
Now, I have no doubt that the times we are living in are, if nothing else, interesting. That is, unless you consider the following to-do list for the million people who use InformationWeek each week to be uninteresting or boring: Do everything you did last quarter, plus roll out and lead a new regulatory-compliance strategy, be more customer-focused, develop new revenue streams, cut costs, figure out what to do with RFID, devise a Web-services strategy, complete the latest integration projects, develop a framework for allowing global single instances, operate in real time, orchestrate bulletproof security, ensure global consistency of products and services, foster customer intimacy, engage offshore outsourcers appropriately, drive low-cost leadership, build superior quality, achieve first-mover status, beat your budget, don't beat your team, and lower your golf score. Interesting enough?
And then comes the wish thing: As most of us have had to slog through the past 30 months of endless budget-slashing, efficiency imperatives, staff shrinkage, salary freezes and/or reductions, we have all begged and pleaded with whatever forces we might wish to pray to for some relief, some improvement, some end to being the head thumbscrew engineer. Or, to cite the bumper sticker that Mercury Interactive CMO Christopher Lochhead spotted recently in Palo Alto: "Please, God, just one more bubble."
"For most companies, technology is the first thing they buy," says Brian Keyser, chief U.S. economist at Citigroup Asset Management. "They're playing catch-up, adopting technology they wish they could have purchased two years ago. IT yields the most bang for the buck for corporations. You can get almost an instant return on your investment."
Well, it might not be a bubble, but the economic news released last week--GDP up 7.2% in the third quarter, IT spending in the quarter rising to an annualized basis of 18.3%, and highly promising trends in business investment overall--looks an awful lot like the sort of thing many of us have been wishing for and that will no doubt make your lives more, well, interesting.
And as always, there are lots of questions to deal with: Is it real? Will it last? Is it safe to go back in the water and invest in stuff that promises to lower costs or increase competitive advantage? What sort of condition am I in relative to my competitors? How have I spent the past 30 months: Have I been in suspended animation, hoping that everybody else's development will be equally stunted when business picks up? Or have I somehow managed over that time to balance rigorous cost-cutting and other disciplines with an ongoing quest for innovation in my business processes and meaningful technology applications and approaches? Have I had the courage and wisdom to remake and reinvigorate my organization during that time, or have I merely overseen its comatose state and hoped it wouldn't get worse?
It will be interesting to see which companies are able now--in this improving economic climate--to take full advantage of the thoughtful investments and organizational changes they've been making, and which ones will need to spend the next few months shaking the sleep out of their eyes and the stiffness out of their vintage mid-2000 capabilities. How will those laggards be able to compete? How will they be able to somehow jump forward three years in ideas, innovation, execution, and customer connections?
I think it was Socrates--or perhaps Yogi Berra--who first said that when the wind's blowing strong enough, even turkeys can fly. A variation: When the economy's lousy enough, it's easy to hide mediocrity. But it looks like the economy's anything but lousy, and so we're about to see those who acted while they wished pull smartly away from those who merely whistled while they wished.
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