Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Leveraging information technology to revitalize mature industries and marketplaces 2: rethinking and implementing new and emergent

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on January 15, 2014

This is the second installment in a series in which I discuss and analyze businesses as information management systems, and in which I characterize their competitive strength and marketplace capabilities in corresponding information technology implementation terms (see Part 1: reconsidering business evaluations and categorizations.) And I begin this posting by making an observation that on first glance might seem obvious and even trite, but that has implications that can be anything but that.

• Information Technology is usually thought of as an internally organizing service, and even for businesses that explicitly provide information technology products and services – at least for the management and maintenance of their own in-house information technology systems. But no in-house or back office system or resource can safely be taken out of consideration when viewing and analyzing a business for its organizational strength or its competitive position, and even when viewing them entirely in terms of their outwardly, industry and marketplace facing capabilities and performance.

I ended Part 1 by noting that I would:

• Continue its discussion in a next installment where I would discuss developing and applying cutting edge, new and emergent information technologies to create disruptively new competitive strength and resiliency. And as a foretaste of that I note here that “new” is context-dependent.

My goal for this posting is to specifically address these points of observation, and in light of the critical role that information technology can take in creating business strength and marketplace-facing competitive advantage.

Available information technology resources and current states of the art for them rapidly change, and both for the specific hardware and software tools available, and for insight and understanding as to how they can be brought together into systems. As such, I am not going to attempt to develop or offer anything like a taxonomy of information technology systems or solutions here. Any such classification listing would begin to slip out of date and out of relevancy before I was even finished drafting it. I will simply note as a nod in that direction that one of the primary thrusts of information technology and its evolution has been to widen and even vastly widen the range of technology solutions that can be developed, creating wider and wider ranges of new and even disruptively-new, and certainly as all of these possible component parts are considered for the myriad number of ways they can be combined. That, I add, has both its positives and its negatives, as the more flexibly you can design, build, implement and maintain, and evolve an overall information technology system as core infrastructure to your organization, the more opportunity there is in them for developing competitive advantage. But at the same time the more complex and varied your options here, the more careful and strategically insightful you need to be if you are to develop a right solution for your organization, that can in fact help you to make it stand out from the competitive crowd.

• When there was basically just one way to develop and offer an information technology solution, it might have been easy to decide how to design and build it in general, and the only real questions were ones of scale and of who would manage which aspects of this enterprise and from what lines and boxes on the table of organization. But the primordial state for electronic computer-based IT with its one big-box mainframe computer and its punch tape and then punched card readers, and then its early keyboard and monitor terminals – all of which were located there at the computer center, are ancient history now. So is that almost as primordial system of pre- and early networked desktop computers with the occasional mini-computer thrown in for good measure.
• User-facing and user-friendly hardware now ranges from devices of the Google Glass category which is still just emerging, to smart phones, tablets and laptops, to desktop computers, and on up to include supercomputers – and with ubiquitous connectivity and cloud storage, and with computational power sharing through capabilities such as cloud computing, it is becoming less and less important precisely what types or scales of device you might be connecting in through or where you are doing that from or to. And I just address hardware per se in this.
• Data processing software, and exponentially expanding scales of data storage with artificial intelligence-backed capabilities for searching and using that data have played an equally large and synergistically supportive role in both increasing what can be done and in increasing the complexity when making any information systems architecture decisions.
• More complex systems create more, and more wide-reaching channels for connecting into and using these systems and for accessing and using or changing the information stored in them, which is a real positive when this is legitimate and permitted resource usage. More complex systems with greater and greater numbers of access points, anticipated and not, also create corresponding risks of loss of control through unwanted and unapproved access and use.
• And I add as a final addition to this still quite partial list of resources complexity, Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), cloud storage and cloud computing are progressively making the specific hardware capabilities of data storage and computational power irrelevant where even a seemingly modest user interface device can serve as a functioning conduit to essentially unlimited data storage and processing capability.

As a Chief Technology Officer, a Chief Information Officer, or a senior Information Technology Architect, how do you select from among all of the options available, when designing and assembling a single, coherent overall information technology system:

• That can be flexible in the face of pressures to change and evolve?
• That can meet current and anticipatable short and medium-term needs now?
• And that can be secure in the face of cybercriminal or other outside intrusion threat?
• And how can you select and build such a system so that it can serve as a source of flexible competitive strength for the overall organization, connecting into and supporting its business model as it is operationally implemented and as it evolves to meet emerging opportunity and challenge?

And I repeat a tiny add-on message from Part 1 and from this posting, above, that this is not all about finding the newest and flashiest and the most disruptively novel overall, from among available possible system components. New and even disruptively novel are context-dependent and finding a novel and break-away effective approach can mean bringing in types of resources in ways that are new in your industry, even if already established in different contexts. And perhaps even more importantly “new” at a systems level can in practice be all about connecting systems together in new and novel ways and regardless of how new or novel any of their component parts might be. Novelty and even the disruptively innovative can be an emergent property at the sub-system or overall systems level, and emerge without any of the basic component parts that enter into it still cutting edge technology. And all of this serves to further expand the range of options that can be fruitfully pursued in developing competitively distinctive systems.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next installment, where I will approach this set of issues from the perspective of the business model and its information management needs. I will then add in the issues of making information technology infrastructure systems competitively effective in supply chain and other collaborative business-to-business contexts, and in the context of the marketplace with its potential collaborations. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. You can also find this and other related material at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 and at the first page to that directory.

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