As we approach Halloween, it seems appropriate to talk about some of the brain-dead stupid practices that can destroy projects and technology companies with evil glee. These monstrous practices can be mitigated by shining heroes armed with the mystical sword of common sense, but only if IT buyers and boards are skilled and brave enough to wield it. Without further ado, let’s talk about the Monsters of IT and Technology.
The Headless CEOs
This seems to be almost policy at HP, after hiring four CEOs. Only one actually did a decent job, and you could argue it was because Mark Hurd actually came from a similar company. Carly Fiorina came from telecom and this within years of being shown that telecom and high tech didn’t mix. AT&T and IBM, both huge powerhouses, tried and, in a frightening fashion for those of us in the middle of it, had two of the scariest failures in history. HP’s board then decided, “hey, let’s put a telephone executive in as a high-tech CEO!” Granted, Hurd was a bit of a monster to the HP employees, but the stockholders loved him. Then right after Sun Microsystems failed because it put a software guy in to run a hardware company, HP’s board decided, “hey, let’s put a failed software CEO in as our CEO,” showcasing that they could fail even more quickly if they put their minds to it. Then finally, after seeing a CEO from an unrelated segment fail at Yahoo, and after being pummeled for Fiorina’s excessive $21M golden parachute, HP’s board put in a CEO from an unrelated industry who had also failed as a politician and put in place a whopping $51M golden parachute.
Hmm, maybe I have this wrong, maybe the problem is zombie boards, where something ate their brains?
The magical cure for this is to get a board that both understands the business and has at least 10 years of industry knowledge so they can look back at what didn’t work in the past and simply not do it again. But it takes a really smart person to actually study history, and it is clear that some secret government facility has stolen the board’s brains. Brains…… And if you look at companies like Yahoo, you’ll see that HP isn’t the only firm where someone has stolen the board’s brains. Brains….
The Frankenstein Merger
We are reminded this week that Frankenstein was the doctor and his creation was the monster, but if you read the book carefully, you’ll see that the monster was largely misunderstood and that anyone who builds a body from mismatched parts is just a tad whacked. Yet this is the most common merger practice. You take parts of the firm that was acquired and graft them onto the body of the company doing the acquiring. Yes, there is even a fire element but, in this case, it is even more frightening than the burning stuff, because it has to do with job terminations. If you want to see someone truly scared, put their job at risk and have them thinking about what they’ll have to tell their spouse and family. Proof of this is that typically when scary sounds are coming out of someplace in a monster movie, the way the soon-to-be-dead character is motivated to go in is by threatening to fire them if they don’t.
The heroic alternative, as Dell seems to most consistently demonstrate, is to instead do what you’d do in a marriage or when building a team. That isn’t grafting the folks together in some kind of twisted Frankenstein or human centipede formula, but connecting them logically so that their individuality and unique assets are preserved and the end result is more like the GhostBusters and less like Frankenstein’s monster running from fire, or being fired, in this case.
Otherwise called polymorphic viruses, these little beasties evolve as they spread, turning PCs and servers into zombies as they do evil things to networks, web pages, servers and personal computers. They steal the souls, well the identities anyway, of users and then use that information to become them, in a weird parody of the Body Snatchers (actually the only thing different is that they don’t kill the original, yet…). There actually appears to be a government conspiracy partially behind this, and the Snowden papers, the writings of a gray technology wizard that folks can’t agree is either white or black, showcased the related evil in even our own government.
The only known magical or mundane defense is apparently a defense in depth, as exemplified by the ARM-based TrustZone technology in AMD’s new business focused solution. This gets below the level of infection and looks for behavior that may signify a hunger for “brains,” or the information on the computer, and may be the best kind of defense for these alien polymorphic viruses.
Here, I’m talking about products that terminate the firm that developed them. In the automotive industry, it might be the Pontiac Aztec, a truly monstrous car, or the Pinto-based flying car that actually terminated the executive team from that company (wings on a Pinto, what could go wrong?). In tech, it might be the Apple server. Yes, even Apple can screw up really badly. Or it might be the Zune, the crippled IBM PCjr., the Motorola Rokr phone done with Apple that Steve Jobs personally hated, and most of the initial set of wearable products, including the Apple Watch.
The best defense against a Terminator product is a clear idea of what the feature set that will work best is and a clear idea of what it will cost to build adequate demand for the resulting product, coupled with a budget that will provide it. Most of these Terminator products failed on both points. They neither had an adequate feature set nor did they have an adequate marketing budget. This is particularly important because given what happened to John Connor in the latest movie, he sure as heck isn’t coming to save us.
Wrapping Up: Limitless
The key element of both the Limitless movie and TV show is a near magical pill that makes the hero really, really smart. While we don’t have the pill really (wait a minute), the only defense against these Monsters of IT and Technology is smart people who can see them coming and know when to run, particularly from Terminator Products, Headless CEOs, Frankenstein Mergers, and Alien Polymorphic Viruses. It strikes me that just saying Polymorphic is likely scary enough.
So this Halloween, rather than the typical cross, holy water, and silver bullet solution, think about pretending you ate that Limitless pill and not being the typical character in a horror flick who, instead of running from the scary sound, decides to go see what is making the noise. In short, run!
Have a great Halloween!
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+