Posted by Tom Grant on February 11, 2009
During his press conference about the stimulus package the other night, President Obama sounded tired. The source of his fatigue didn't seem to be the size of the bill he was proposing. Instead, Obama sounded burdened by the changes to American society that were required to make $800 billion worth spending. Here's a representative quote:
We are going to have to work with the banks in an effective way to
clean up their balance sheets so that some trust is restored within the
marketplace, because right now part of the problem is that nobody
really knows what's on the bank's books. Any given bank, they're not
sure what kinds of losses are there. We've got to open things up and
restore some trust.
Now, maybe philosophically you just don't think that the federal
government should be involved in energy policy. I happen to disagree
with that; I think that's the reason why we find ourselves importing
more foreign oil now than we did back in the early '70s when OPEC first
And we can have a respectful debate about whether or not
we should be involved in energy policymaking, but don't suggest that
somehow that's wasteful spending. That's exactly what this country
To fix the banks, you need to restore trust, which may mean changes in our financial markets. To remove the dead weight on the economy of dependence on foreign oil, you must first think that government should play a role in changing the energy technologies we deploy. Whatever you think of Obama's stimulus package, you can't say that he's only talking about throwing money at problems. Money is important, but so are changes to make sure the money isn't wasted.
The Obama Administation Meets The O'Reilly Series
The technology industry is facing its own version of Obama's challenge. The economic downturn is painful, but greater skepticism among IT buyers is nothing new. In Forrester parlance, that's called the shift from information technology (IT) to business technology (BT): in a nutshell, people don't give vendors as much of a benefit of the doubt that their technology has real business value.
Like the economic challenges that preceded the financial market meltdown, BTis a trend that preceded a calamitous event. Unlike foreign oil imports, or the widening gap between salaries in the boardroom and the shopfloor, there isn't a way to undo momentum in the direction of BT. After the economic downturn ends, technology buyers and consumers will still look at technology vendors with an increasingly skeptical eye.
Commitment, Not Compliance
While I was watching Obama's press conference, I was working on a document about the role that social media is likely to play in making product decisions. I was also re-familiarizing myself with some slides for a teleconference on the effect that Agile adoption has on technology companies. Both topics felt a lot like some of the changes that Obama was discussing, steps that would be harder than just hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass.
For example, there's a misperception of Agile--what we might call "vulgar Agile"--that focuses exclusively on the rate of iterations. "We want to go to market faster, so release more often!" Unfortunately, vulgar Agile misses many of the profound changes in product development that real Agile demands. There's little point in going faster if you don't commit to the disciplines of re-factoring and continuous integration. Customers won't be happier to get the same products faster, in shorter iterations, if the technology in question still does not visibly and easily make their lives easier. The Agile ethos--a belief in the superiority of adaptive over command-and-control development--requires a change of heart.
Other necessary changes in the technology industry, such as embracing both the inbound and outbound aspects of social media, also demand more than just modifications of behavior. These changes will happen in fits and starts, as will the changes needed to pull the global economy out of its current doldrums.
Admittedly, this analogy breaks down in one important way: there's only one global economy to fix. Technology companies who can't adjust to BT, social media, or other new realities face stiff competition from others who can.
[Cross-posted at The Heretech.]