Learning to spot winning technologies

Faced with a stream of new technologies it is vital that IT directors keep abreast of the latest developments and are aware of...

Faced with a stream of new technologies it is vital that IT directors keep abreast of the latest developments and are aware of emerging technological solutions on the market, writes Ross Bentley.

But how do you pick a winning technology? How do you pluck the VHS from a crop of Betamaxes?

"It sounds obvious but a winning technology is the one that best solves the problem you have, for the least cost," says Mike Lucas, Compuware's UK technology manager.

In a lot of cases this may mean not using too much technology. "It is important not to over-engineer - sometimes people get so wrapped up in technology that they can't see the wood for the trees. If they take a step back they might see that heavy investment in technology is unnecessary.

"Think back to the famous example of the search for a pen that worked in space. With no gravity, the ink wouldn't flow downwards so the Americans spent a lot of time and money developing a pen that pumped the ink down, while the Russians decided to use a pencil."

But when graphite will not do and a more sophisticated technology is required Lucas follows a straightforward template. "A winning technology should offer you capability, transformation and results," he says.

When considering the capability of a technology we must ask ourselves a series of questions, Lucas says. Does it bring new knowledge and information to the right people? Does it bring a new, more efficient way of working? Is it an enabling technology - does it bring IT to another part of the business?

As for transformation, Lucas says we must consider quality, quantity and direction. Are the error rules reduced? Is customer service improved? Is the business unit throughput increased? Does it support the business moving into a new market?

When considering results again it all comes down to quality, quantity and direction, Lucas says. Can you measure an increase in revenue? Can you measure a lowering in cost? Does the technology offer new methods of doing things? Does it offer new channels to market? Does it reduce time to market and offer organisational agility?

"When we talk about technology we aren't just talking about one innovation in isolation," he says. "Large-scale solutions are invariably made up of many interconnecting technologies."

But for many companies experimenting with different technologies is not an option. "It is only the larger corporate organisations that have the resources to run pilot schemes with new technologies. It seems to happen in the companies that have some kind of IT representation at board level where someone high up is convinced of the benefits that IT can bring.

"Smaller companies which don't have this option might look at third-party companies to provide them with answers, or consider the outsourcing route."

Lucas reminds us of the valuable lessons to be learnt, whatever environment you are working in, from last year's high-tech crash, which saw so many bright young dotcom companies go bust .

"Any technology, regardless of how whizzy it is, is no good unless it fits with a business case." The burgeoning broadband and mobile 3G sectors are a good example. "The technology is there," he says, "it's just waiting for people to find ways and content to exploit it."

Lucas says the home computing market still offers many opportunities for new technologies to make an impact. "People have tried different technologies in the home but as yet there does not seem to be a convincing winner. We've had digital TV, mobile devices and PCs.

"Microsoft may have spotted an opportunity with the XBox. The real take-up of home computing is likely to come from a device that has another more common use. Another idea is to add e-mail functionality to the phone - this will go some way to bringing technology to people who otherwise wouldn't go near a computer."

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