January 11, 2018 Stewart Marshall

The Business of Being in Business

I shared a bottle of red, or two, with a couple of old IT friends recently. We all started our IT careers at roughly the same time nearly 30 years ago. As we’re prone to do from time to time, we reminisced about how it used to be, remembered old colleagues, and told funny IT stories about mad users like Karen, a Fellow of the Insurance Institute, who used to store her back up disks in a ring binder by putting holes in them with a hole punch.

We found out because she complained that she could never access the files on the disk once she’d put them on there.

It’s funny if you’ve ever done IT support.

Same, Same But Different?

At one point, the conversation turned to the enormous level of complexity of modern software applications, and how they are so different from those of yesteryear. But the more we talked about the differences, the more we realised how similar they actually are.

In fact, we concluded that in all our near 100 years in the industry, we’d only ever really had software that did 3 things.

  1. Data is read from or written to a storage device.
  2. Data is manipulated in programs.
  3. Data is presented to the user on a screen or an alternative medium e.g. a piece of paper.

With 60 years of IT reduced to an atomic level we opened a bottle of scotch.

Any further insights we may have had have been permanently erased courtesy of a Mr McCallan.

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

“The more things change, the more they stay the same”.

Ain’t that the case?!

With all the advances of modern technology and particularly computers and their increased mobility, we could be forgiven for losing sight of this “rule of three”. After all, the relationship between it and let’s say Instagram or Facebook or a.n.other running on the phone in your pocket isn’t immediately obvious. However, I can assure you that it’s a perfect fit and that leaves me with a question.

Why haven’t the fundamentals of computing changed?

The obvious answer is of course that the underlying purpose that it serves hasn’t changed.

Money In, Money Out

OK, so the above somewhat simplifies the very complex subject of corporate accounting, but ultimately, we can trace everything back a few hundred years to the origins of double entry book keeping and a good old fashioned general ledger.

Similarly, we might look at how a customer interacts with a vendor. Today we have online shopping and the prospect of drones filling the skies to deliver pizzas, but 100 years ago or so, if you wanted to buy something, you’d have spoken to the appropriate retailer or service provider in person.

The means by which we place an order and the delivery mechanisms may have changed, but the nature of the relationship is exactly as it has been for many, many years.

Fashion

Today, businesses are confronted by a dizzying array of software and hardware options. Every year, new trends emerge and the latest and greatest inventions in the world of IT are touted as this year’s silver bullet/cure all/panacea.

But, whether it’s IBM, Microsoft, Google or a host of other players big and small, they are all in the business of being in business, and they want to sell you something, for precisely the same reasons that you want to sell whatever product or service you offer.

They want to maximise the value of their business for their shareholders.

They’ve gotta sell something

But this doesn’t mean you have to buy the latest and greatest. IT systems are part of your corporate infrastructure. They are there, amongst other reasons, to enable your strategic business goals, support your daily operations and provide flexibility and fluidity in times of change.

Your decision making therefore, when it comes to information technology, should be driven by your business, and not the ever changing offerings of those who sell technology for a living.

And a good job it is too. There sheer volume of offerings today is enough to turn an old IT guy to drink.

I wonder if there’s any of that scotch left.


Today’s Top Takeaway

An old tool used well is more valuable than a new one used poorly, so don’t rush to by the latest and greatest.


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