Technology workers are the future

Innovation starts and ends with people, not mergers and acquisitions

“How much love are we giving them?” I overheard this the other day from a woman -- undoubtedly a sales exec -- on her cell phone on the escalator at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. Don’t ask why, but I’d taken a flyer and spent two hours at ad:tech, an interactive marketing conference that has little to do with enterprise IT. Because there’s no real technology differentiation in interactive marketing, from what I can tell, the Internet advertising business is all about the love.

So where’s the love in enterprise IT? It’s not at the C level -- although put Sun’s new CEO Jonathan Schwartz in a tie-dye shirt to go with his ponytail and he could probably fake it. The love is the developers, contact center reps, designers and architects, QA folks, the people making it happen. We’ve lived through four years of commoditization and consolidation where people didn’t matter; the game was about scale and distribution channels and financial strength. Now the tide is turning.

Anecdotal evidence no. 1:  I attended a CIO roundtable last week where the attendees were asked: What are the key capabilities you must put in place to be a strategic partner to the business? “Architecture” made the top five, along with the usual tributes to leadership bench strength, business savvy, and so on. The CIOs then proceeded to spend 10 minutes talking about how hard it is to find good architects and the importance of good people with the right technology skills. IT people matter again!

Anecdotal evidence no. 2:  A recent report from Deloitte, spotlighting the financial services industry, says these firms should “refocus relationships using technology and innovation” as one of their top five growth strategies. Innovation, you may recall, comes from people, not from mergers or automation. People … who love what they’re doing every day.

Let’s dive deeper into the report. I’ll translate: “Retail product innovation has largely failed to deliver sustainable growth,” the study says. “Products are rarely differentiated and competitors can quickly copy them.” Translation: Giving away toasters and promoting no-fee checking isn’t working anymore, so maybe we need a better Web site!

Financial firms must become more customer-centric to win loyalty, Deloitte says. The study identifies several key areas for technology innovation, from technology-enabled products to enhanced internal collaboration to customer service applications. At HSBC, one of the largest banks in the world, more customers interact with the bank online and by phone than enter its branches, Deloitte notes.

“Elaborate technical functionality becomes less important than ease of use, navigability, and personalization,” the study asserts. “Successful firms will balance personal contact and technology to provide personalized service at a reasonable cost.”

OK, but for us geeks, the report also mentions “multi-product electronic trading platforms, featuring direct market access and algorithmic trading.” Don’t you love how in one sentence these business types can snub technology and in the next, praise it? The truth is they really love us. They need us. IT people are the future.

A final, personal note: While attending a reception at an IT conference this week, I scored autographs from two of my childhood heroes: Boston’s Jim Rice and Luis Tiant, who starred in the magical 1975 Red Sox post-season. Thanks to whatever marketing person came up with this idea … you rock too!