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The best tech investment I never made: Four CIOs' tales

Minda Zetlin | Aug. 14, 2012
IT leaders must learn to tell whether a new technology will transform their businesses -- or just become the next boondoggle. Four CIOs offer their perspectives.

"Our companies all have different IT footprints and different processes and procedures, so we determined there was a significant risk in moving to the public cloud," Cohen notes. "We realized we aren't mature enough for the move, whether for storage or email. Instead, our determination was, 'Let's build the best technology we know how and aggregate our IT approach. And then we may be ready later on.'"

Before adopting a new technology, Meilen says, it's important to determine whether your IT organization can take on all the tasks that an implementation would require. "If it's a small or young [vendor], do I have the skills in my organization to engage with them?" he says. "There are capabilities a large, well-established tech company would bring that a smaller startup won't. I'll have to supplement those. I'll be teaching a young company how to come to market in the enterprise space."

We Can't Handle It

Even if a technology is perfectly ready and could be perfectly useful for an organization, it may simply be something that IT can't take on. "I've been a CIO for 13 years, but in the recent past, it's become like the I Love Lucy episode in the candy factory," Roberts says. "There was a time when new technologies and new ways of doing things came along at an acceptable pace. I could take the time to make a thoughtful decision whether to invest in them. Now things are at such a rapid pace, I find myself making decisions not to invest in this, or to stop doing that."

Getting these calculations wrong can have dire consequences. "One company decided to make a $10 million investment in SAP over three years," Weeks recalls, of a former employer. "They were going to take it out of the operating budget, rather than finance it. The company was in a cyclical industry and the second year, it hit a recession. It wasn't going to make any money that year. They fired the CIO, saying, 'It was a bad decision to start this project when you did.'"

This happened not with an unproven newfangled idea, but with a solid technology that would unquestionably have created benefits. "If they'd been more conservative in their approach, perhaps implementing it in stages, that project would have been a lot more successful," Weeks says.

And When to Say Yes

There are many excellent reasons to say no, but doing so too often can hurt you. If you wait too long on a new technology, you might lose competitive advantage or spend too much on old systems. For example, Cohen acknowledges that "we may have waited a bit too long on virtualized storage and wound up investing a little more in hardware than we needed to."


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