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Managing Technological Change (Part 1 of 2)

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Rapid-fire changes in technology affect most businesses in the "New Economy," but many of the tried-and-true business rules of the "Old Economy" are still valid. In this first of a two-part series, Cooper Smith explores how we view the people who manage our relationship between business and technology.
Placing special emphasis on a comprehensive approach combining organization, people, process, and technology, Harris Kern’s Enterprise Computing Institute is recognized as one of the world’s premier sources for CIOs and IT professionals concerned with managing information technology.
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Technology and the Workplace

Over the last 50 years, the old fashioned "deal on a handshake" has been replaced by deals over the cellular, the Internet, and now the wireless Internet. Every corporation, manager, and individual must now adapt to an ever more complex set of economic realities. There is minimal precedent for businesses and technologists to follow from the traditional IT structures that arose in the latter half of the last century. But, fortunately, dealing with human nature is as predictable and reliable as ever. In other words, although the nature of technology and its impact on business worldwide defines the "New Economy," many of the tried-and-true business rules of the "Old Economy" are still valid.

Managing technology is still managing value, however that value is perceived, judged, and understood. The same can be true for managing any kind of commodity or person, but in technology, measuring value can be considerably more elusive than evaluating a luxury car or a hardworking employee. The economic principle behind technological value is simply, "If you make something work, you are valuable." Whether the technology is blacksmithing or Internet management, this common principle never changes. In the real world, everybody gets things to "work" in their own way, whether they’re teachers, scientists, accountants, or engineers. Making things work is how we provide economic value to others. In addition, we must provide for ourselves as individuals by making things work, from complex office social systems to automobile engines. But what happens when a restaurant suddenly asks the resident chef to fix the owner’s car? In fact, the chef is told that if he doesn’t fix the car, he’ll be fired! This seems like a preposterous notion, but situations similar to this occur every day in IT departments all over the world.

What happens when an individual has spent 10 years learning everything there is to know about cooking, but is suddenly asked to cram 10 years of auto mechanic learning into a single day? What happens when an individual has spent years becoming a Windows NT expert, but suddenly is asked to cram years of UNIX learning into a single day? Interestingly, a digital technologist skilled at some type of technology is often asked not only to become familiar with other technologies, but to master them instantly. Ironically, because of the very ambiguous nature of technology, people making these requests rarely have any idea of the complexity involved.

As technology is based on logic, it appears logical to assume that people can adapt from one form of technology to another with only a shift in paradigm. A nice idea, but people aren’t always so logical. This is why almost everyone has a certain love/hate relationship with technology. We all love it when it works. We all hate it when it doesn’t. But the trick in using technology to generate value is learning how to make it work for you. Learning, understanding, and managing new and different technologies are part of any IT manager’s job, but new technologies are not learned in the timeframes usually requested by others in the organization. Most managers see a technology job as any other job. Jobs are created by businesses. If the strategist behind the business decides it’s time to change technologies, he or she makes this decision regardless of whether the company’s IT managers have been immersed in the old technology for the last 10 years! This lack of understanding as related to the difficulty of switching or modifying legacy technologies, combined with the diversity of human nature, has developed some very interesting patterns in the way most businesses relate their business needs to the needs of IT managers.

The modern functional dilemma for most businesses, large or small, technological or nontechnological, is this: Where does "technology" end and "business" begin? This question is key to any technology’s success in the real world. Almost every business today must have some level of IT capacity to do business outside of itself. The tasks for principal owners are to understand the relationship of technology to their core business and then to manage that relationship. More specifically, how do businesses manage the people who manage the relationship between business and technology?

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