Novel Thought for the Day: Don't Invest in Technology

Don Tennant

Here's an eyebrow-raising quote for you: "Invest in technology? That's a terrible idea." Oddly enough, the remark might not be as outrageous as it might seem at first blush.


According to FOLIO: magazine writer Jason Fell, it was made last week at the 2010 FOLIO: Show in New York by Jason Brightman, director of Web design at PC World and Macworld. Brightman's point, Fell wrote in his blog, was that technology evolves so quickly that the better investment is in clever people.


The sentiment is consistent with one expressed last year by a Gartner researcher, according to yet another Jason-Jason Hiner, editor in chief of TechRepublic. Hiner summed up the viewpoint this way:

You hear a lot about the need for IT pros to become more business savvy, but Gartner researcher Tom Austin takes that thinking even further. He suggests that the future of IT lies in an emphasis on people and not technology. In an interview he even went so far as to say, "The problem with IT today is there are too many engineers and not enough social scientists."

I've heard the same basic viewpoint expressed by a number of IT pros over the years, as well. I can recall moderating a CIO roundtable discussion in which I asked the CIOs what technology is likely to be most transformative for businesses over the next five years. My favorite response was from the CIO who said. "Technology won't transform business. People will."


I touched on this topic in a column I wrote for Computerworld a couple of years ago, when I encapsulated a fundamental characteristic of a group of IT leaders Computerworld was honoring at the time. That characteristic was an appreciation for people:

"Focusing on the right people first makes the technology come easy," says Richard Wells, director of corporate IT at Syracuse Research Corp. Manoj Chouthai, CIO at Public Service Enterprise Group, is known for what one of his colleagues calls his "incredible skills in relationship management." Pamela Hunt of Lockheed Martin Simulation Training & Support and Jo Lee Hayes of Sallie Mae are both hailed by colleagues as leaders who never ask their IT team members to do anything they wouldn't do themselves.

Brightman's remark was almost certainly tongue in cheek, at least to some degree, but the sentiment was a legitimate one. Far too often, technology receives scarce corporate dollars at the expense of hiring and retaining good people. "Focusing on the right people first" might be the best advice you'll receive in your career as an IT professional.



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