Are you on a path to obsolescence?

Apr 10, 2016 | Hot Topics

No, not you personally but your IT? How many different backup types do you have, cluttering up your environment? Just from my desk, I can see audio and data cartridges, CDs, DVDs. and USB drives of all sorts. In my filing cabinets, I’m pretty sure I’ve got big floppies, small floppies and some of those unfloppy disks Macs used to use back in the day … If that doesn’t resonate with you, how many generations of iPod have you bought? Or how many cell phones, from huge/basic to tiny flips to bigger-with-keyboard to huge with apps? We see technical obsolescence all around us, every day, and it can be frightening to contemplate how much we’ve spent on these critical must-have technologies at the moment, only to see them ultimately fade away.

How do we keep from falling into this trap with the software we use? Most software vendors try hard to keep these harsh transitions to a minimum. They realize that customer data has real, long-term value and must be promoted even as underlying technologies change. When that’s not possible, they create migration tools to minimize the damage and do their best to explain the technological decision that mandates a change. It’s up to the customer to then decide whether such a change opens up a competitive replacement process, with the incumbent no better off than a challenger, or if the logic sticks and the pain of change is simply a cost of business.

But whether we’re talking migrating from one CAD to another (hard), from one ERP to another (awful) or between versions of PowerPoint (annoying), it’s a fact of life that technology evolves. Since there’s no reason to presume this will slow down any time soon, how can you make the best decision, with the info you have at that moment, to protect your investment in both the IT and in the intellectual property you create using it? Flipping this 180 degrees, how can you make sure that your tech decisions don’t lead to dead-ends?

I’d argue that it’s by ensuring that your suppliers make their technology choices to favor extensibility and openness over closed and proprietary. Are they using industry standards? No matter how flawed these standards may be, they open the door for third parties to create tools that can help migrate your data from Product A to Product B, should that become necessary. Do their business practices welcome these partners, and enable them to succeed even in what could be considered a competitive arena? The reality is that even the major IT powerhouses can’t create every product, for every industry and every user type; if the prime vendor is OK with getting a slightly smaller piece of a much bigger pie that continues to grow, that’s a positive sign. Finally, look at track records and be skeptical: ask if they can show you how they open a part (if CAD is your thing) from 5 or 10 years ago. What product version track or translators or third party solutions do they need to use to get from then to now? How usable is that data for you? What’s the roadmap going forward — and how do its zigs and zags affect your ability to grow with this solution? If you can’t open legacy parts and you need to, think about the effort required (time, money, lost productivity) to get the product rev you want to use. If this isn’t an issue for you now, still think about it because business changes and an old client may come back and want a mod on an old project. Of course you can remodel if this is truly a one-time event — but what if it’s not??

Late last year, I took a look at how ecosystems help protect a buyer’s investment in the IT they use. Software ecosystems are groups of independent businesses that work together to serve customers around a particular type of technology, both software and services. If the platform vendor (the big one, the sun around whom the rest circle) creates a solid, open and extensible platform, it should be able to weather most transitions, whether they’re operating system-related, desktop to cloud, keyboard and haptic — or whatever comes next. A partner will be on the cutting edge, perhaps, leading the platform in the right direction. As I’ve written before, you can’t know where technology will be or what your business will need in 5 years or in 10 years so you need to carefully select IT partners that can evolve with you.

Read the original research here, about how ecosystems maximize flexibility and agility because they can call upon a vast set of domain experts who can help guide the platform towards its most flexible next incarnation.