Consulting Training Blog Careers About Us Contact Us

Press Release: Business forum: Let's forget technology fairy tales and embrace reality by Intertech CEO Tom Salonek published in Star Tribune

Business forum: Let's forget technology fairy tales and embrace reality

by Tom Salonek

Published 09/15/2003

The summer of 2003 will be remembered for more than just unseasonably hot and dry weather. With the many stunning technology failures -- from the electric power grid shutdown to Internet worms to the recent report on NASA's shortcomings -- it's obvious that "something's happening out there."

Many are scratching their heads and wondering how a teenager in Hopkins, for example, could send out a computer worm capable of damaging thousands of computers and wreaking untold costs on businesses and personal computer owners. Or how a freak accident in Cleveland could lead to the largest blackout in U.S. history. Or how an agency such as NASA filled with top-notch professionals and cutting-edge technology could make such deadly errors.

The answer is painfully simple: Technology has its limits, and people have to remain part of the solution. We can't operate on autopilot once technology is installed (and installation frequently is no easy job). It must be evaluated and maintained by people who know what they're doing and care about the outcomes.

Technology has limits

There's no doubt that technology is making our lives easier and better, and business more productive and profitable, in countless ways. But there is a disconnect in our collective understanding of the limits of technology, particularly the notion that technology is a "plug and play" endeavor.

Advertising and marketing by technology companies has helped to foster these false notions. Think about the recent television commercial from Microsoft for its business operation software .Net. In the commercial, an older gentleman is guiding one of the new hires around the business, pointing out how "When I joined, sales didn't know what we had in manufacturing, accounting didn't know what was sold, and all of our systems weren't connected. Today, all of that is fixed." The puzzled young associate asks, "Wow, how long have you been here?" The "veteran" replies, "Three months!"

The commercial might as well have shown the fairy godmother waving her magic wand over Cinderella -- transforming her from a frumpy housemaid into a gorgeous prince magnet -- because in both scenarios something complicated, time-consuming and expensive is portrayed as simple, seamless and fast.

Don't get me wrong. Microsoft .Net is powerful. It really can integrate various business functions. Countless other valuable software packages available to businesses today can do many of the same things. What's misleading is the implication that it is a simple matter to get any complicated software, operating system or programming environment such as .Net up and running.

I'm sure it's a major challenge to communicate the benefits of a complicated technology product in a 30-second TV commercial. But advertising's need to simplify (the less-generous observer calls this "hype") creates a reality gap in our minds about the ease with which technology can be installed and maintained.

Here's the reality: There is no technology fairy godmother. However, that doesn't mean it's not worth the effort to get ourselves dressed up, go to the ball and put on the glass slipper.

We tell clients that the more sophisticated or feature-rich a technology, the more time and programming effort will be required to get it up and running, and to maintain it. And state and federal governments also must begin to invest in our technological infrastructures, from electrical grids to NASA systems, to make sure the capacity is sufficient, the backups are efficient and the software robust. In fact, government could learn from business by realizing that for every dollar U.S. companies spend on software, they spend $3 to $8 on programming and IT consulting services.

How did we get here?

If you step back and look at the dot-com phenomenon since the mid-1990s, you can see how technology hype and product adoption follows a predictable curve. Gartner Research, which tracks technology trends, uses a standard "wave" to explain how technologies affect us.

Take dot-coms, for example. They started in the mid-'90s. There were toes in the water, but no one fully understood the technology. From that point, it quickly accelerated to a peak of inflated expectations.

The peak occurred in early 2000. On the backside of the wave came the dip into the "trough of disillusionment." At this point, we considered throwing the baby out with the bath water. Luckily, after the shakeout of business models that didn't make sense, we moved on.

After disillusionment comes what Gartner calls "enlightenment and a plateau of profitability."

For dot-coms, the bulk of the shakeout and related skepticism is behind us. For example, online banking is here to stay, and the days of buying dog food from Internet Web sites for below cost with free shipping are past.

What is the best thing you can do to ensure success in using technology? The answer is four words: Build a great team. Like any winning team, a committed group will know its desired outcome, work through adversity and be driven toward success. They may not be fairy godmothers, but their dedication will spell the difference between success and failure with any complicated technology application, from electrical grids to online banking Web sites to shuttle launch missions.

-30-

Why Intertech?

Great Places to Work
The Business Journal
12 x
One of the Fastest Growing Firms in America
Inc. 5000
9 x
100 Top Employers
Minnesota Business Magazine
5 x
Top Workplaces Award
Star Tribune
5 x
Fastest Growing Firm in Minnesota
Minnesota Technology Fast 50
4 x
Fastest Growing Privately Held Firms In US
PCI Entrex
4 x
Top 25 Computer Training Firms
The Business Journal
3 x
Top 25 Web Development Firms
The Business Journal
2 x
Fastest Growing Firm in America
Forbes ASAP
2 x
Best Small IT Consulting Firms to Work For in North America
Consulting Magazine
Top 100 Workplace Special Award Winner
Star Tribune
Top Computer Training Firms
Twin Cities Business Monthly
Finance & Operation Best Practices Winner
UpSize Magazine - Business Builder Awards
40 Under 40
The Business Journal
Minnesota Work Life Champion Award Winner
Minnesota Work Life Champion
Winning Workplaces finalist
The Wall Street Journal
Healthiest Employer
Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal and OptumHealth
Community Impact Finalist
UpSize Magazine - Business Builder Awards
Communications Finalist
UpSize Magazine - Business Builder Awards
Minnesota Business Builder of the Year
UpSize Magazine
Our Story