Ready, Set, Talk - InformationWeek

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Ready, Set, Talk

Wow, what a lot of big thoughts being thunk last week. From Bill Gates expounding a sweeping view of how people will work to SAP's Henning Kagermann imagining how companies will connect and disconnect, there was a steady dose of the vision thing. One of the views to touch ground was offered by IBM's Steven Mills, who runs the company's software business. Mills served up practical advice for keeping programmers from eating through a company's IT budget in search of perfection. And Mentor Graphics

Vendors View Complexity
You want a less-complex I.T. environment? Business-technology managers should heed the adage "patient, heal thyself." Technology vendors can take steps to reduce hardware and software complexity, but there's only so much they can do, warned IBM senior VP Steven Mills and Charles Giancarlo, Cisco Systems' senior VP and chief technology officer, during a panel discussion last week at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo in San Francisco.

Steven Mills

Steven Mills
Maintaining complex infrastructures is eating up the IT budgets at many companies, said Mills, representing IBM's $15 billion annual software business. His advice is for IT managers to do what he does: "Starve developers." Meaning, don't give them all the resources and time they want to perfect their creations. "Given enough time and resources, developers will reinvent everything that's come before," he warned.

IT vendors are bound to offer an increasing number of features in their products, Giancarlo said; every Cisco customer wants only 10 features in a product, but those 10 features vary from customer to customer. "It's extraordinarily complex to make complex things simple," he said.

Businesses often have competing groups within them, said Giancarlo, who added that each group thinks it has the right approach to solving a problem. This leads to the deployment of different systems

to solve the same problem, multiplying complexity. "The federal government has got this [problem] in spades," he said.

The alternative is for businesses to develop software as components, then reuse them in future projects. New complexity should be tolerated only where it yields competitive advantage, and older forms of software that have become commoditized need to reflect that by using the simplest and most standardized forms of software available, Giancarlo said. "There's no benefit when complexity is noncompetitive."

-- Charles Babcock

Software As Secretary
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates was in a visioning mood last week when hosting an annual CEO Summit in Redmond, Wash. The topic: the future of work, and how software will support it. He talked about how the next generation of applications to help information workers will focus on making sense of information, where the last focused on collecting it, according to a transcript of the speech.

The problem with an "always-on" environment is prioritizing what's important and working on it without interruption. That's a job software will grow into, he predicted in an E-mail following the speech. "As software learns your working preferences, it can flexibly manage your interruptions. If you're working on a high-priority memo under a tight deadline, for example, software should be able to understand this and only allow phone calls or E-mails from, say, your manager or a family member," he said. (The full text is at events/executives/billgates.mspx.)

-- Chris Murphy

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