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That Giant Sucking Sound: Technology too Complex to Be Useful?

Joe McKendrick
Insurance Experts' Forum, December 17, 2009

Ten-plus years ago, while everyone was pouring through all their IT assets and code in a scramble to mitigate the feared the effects of the Year 2000 date rollover, many companies made a jaw-dropping discovery. That is, many companies were paying for the licensing and maintenance of thousands of applications that never got used. Or, at best, there may have been one user somewhere periodically logging in for an occasional report. If it weren't for the Y2K scare, they probably never would have known about all these never-used systems. But, 10 years on, it's likely there's even more unused applications sitting around enterprises, sucking away licensing and maintenance funds.

Only 10% of all the features of all the technology in the world are currently being used today. Technology may be ubiquitous, and our businesses completely digitized, but there's actually a lot of shelfware that sits unused and underutilized.

Why is this so? J.B. Wood, president and CEO of the Technology Services Industry Association ponders this question in a new book, Complexity Avalanche: Overcoming the Threat to Technology Adoption. As Wood put it: “It turns out technology does have its limits. Not because engineers can't innovate, but because users can't use ... Most customers are struggling to keep up, and they usually settle for far less value that they could, and should, get from their purchases."

Wood argues that the IT industry needs to move away from the idea of selling technology products and focus on the idea that they are selling services to customers—to improve call center operations, improving customer retention, and so forth. This is a concept many IT vendors do not grasp, he says.

Actually, there is nothing new about Wood's contention. The reason IBM became the biggest computer company in the world back in the 1950s and 60s is because Big Blue never sold machines to customers. It sold business solutions, and had a well-trained sales force committed to doing just that. Contrast that to a technology-heavy culture such as Digital Equipment Corp. (no longer around), which sold systems that only an engineer could love.

The key is to understand how and why a solution needs to be integrated into the business, and how it will help that business move forward. Too many IT vendors sell their equipment and software then disappear. The challenge is well stated by the CIO of one multibillion-dollar optical lens manufacturer, quoted by Wood: “If I could just get one message across to technology companies, it would be this. As a CIO I am not a customer. I am just a reseller for you. The real customers are the business users. Your success and mine depends on how happy and successful THEY are, not me.”

The lesson is, as Wood reminds us, is time and time again, businesses need working solutions to their problems—and not be spending their capital on all the latest bells and whistles. Let's hope the vendor community takes heed of this lesson.

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Joe using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at joe@mckendrickresearch.com.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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