Business First, Vista Second
Vista: Yes or No?
“Should I include Microsoft Windows Vista in my company’s technology budget?” asks the client. Wisdom’s answer: Probably not. If you run a successful enterprise, there are better uses for your company’s time and money. Here’s why.
What’s More Important Than Vista?
Information technology must serve business goals. We, the members of the IT community, sometimes lose site of this relationship when we make recommendations.
One of our faults: We tend to grow enamored with the fastest, latest, and coolest technology. But, that’s backwards! It’s like putting the cart before the horse, or putting a boxcar in front of the engine on a train.
Cool technology only makes sense if it serves the business in the form of return on investment (ROI). Each new gadget, server, high-speed Internet connection or firewall only makes sense if it helps you to serve your customers.
IT is Nothing New
That said, doesn’t it makes sense to have the newest and the best? Frankly, the newest isn’t always the best, in spite of the hype. One effective way to determine the best information technology for your business is to employ methods that are
thousands of years old.
“Information processing has been at the heart of human existence since the dawn of civilization.” So reads the preface of the book Building Enterprise Information Architectures by Melissa A. Cook. Our ancestors may never have debated the merits of Apple vs. Microsoft but they certainly developed ways to classify objects and ideas. This ability to classify objects and ideas is the foundation of what today we call information technology.
Layered IT Solutions
Cook’s idea: Using our ability to classify objects and ideas, break the business technology problem into layers. Cook favors a layered approach developed by John Zachman. The layers are a strategic way to break the IT problem into easily digested pieces. Advantages of this method include:
- Easier delegation to team members.
- Rarely can one person excel in all aspects of a project. The layers allow each team member to shine in their area of mastery.
- Modularity. When advances are made in one layer, that layer can be improved without the need to discard the entire system. For example, BMW doesn’t redesign their windshield wiper motors everytime they release a new car model. They focus on those areas where they can maximize value like engine performance and suspension design.
Top: Business Layer
The top layer is the place where business owners really shine. As a business owner or manager, never let your tech people tell you that a product is best because it’s the latest. Challenge that assumption. Business leaders must lead. The business layer is the home of ROI.
Several years ago, the owners of an insurance company were advised by their tech people to upgrade their systems to run the latest database software. The owners declined. Reason: The tech team couldn’t justify the upgrade in business terms. Would the new software serve more customers? Create more customers? Make customers happier? No to all three. But it was the latest thing!
Fast forward five years. Another new technology wave had hit the shores. Yes, it was the latest thing. And this time, the customer bought the technology.
Why? First, the vendors of the new technology had listened to the concerns raised with the earlier technology. The new system enabled the insurance company to serve more customers with fewer staff, always a goal of the efficient-minded manager. Second, the new software enabled the insurance company to create new products to serve their customers better. The driving factors behind this company’s decision were both in the business layer of the framework. The business layer is the home of ROI.
Bridge: System Layer
We might think of the system layer as the bridge between the suits and the techs. Business leaders bring their latest fantasies (fueled by airplane flight magazine syndrome) to the IT team. The techs (sometimes overly cautious) tell the suits why their fantasies are technically impractical, and the two sides engage in battle.
Eventually, something powerful happens. In the midst of the debates, both sides begin to see the merits of the other side’s position. The techs learn that suit ideas generate ROI, which releases revenue for well-paying tech jobs. The suits learn that tech ideas lead to stable systems and higher customer satisfaction. Both sides need each other.
Finally: Technology Layer
Building a good technology system is like taking a long journey. Planning is key, and the savvy traveler does not pack a suitcase until he/she has chosen a destination. SCUBA gear or ski equipment? It makes little sense to pack both!
The Windows Vista decision hinges on several earlier decisions that must be made in light of business goals. Does the Vista upgrade make sense for your business? Only if business goals are considered first. Information technology must serve business goals. It’s the proven path to IT achievement.
Building Enterprise Information Architectures by Melissa A. Cook. Still relevant, even though it was written before the dot-com boom and bust. This author tells why “Technology is a tactical tool for information processing. No more, no less.”
About the Author
Raymond T. Hightower is the president of WisdomGroup, a Chicago-based information technology firm. Wisdom creates information technology solutions for growing businesses.