The spring event season is coming to a close. And as usual, I'm feeling the rush of elation that comes from learning about exciting new technology, discovering smart new start-ups, and hearing industry experts talk about concepts like IoT, cognitive analytics, machine learning, neural networks and more.
So many of us got into the IT industry because of technology's potential to change the world as we know it, so seeing first-hand the kind of technology capable of bringing that promise to fruition is great.
But this year, something else accompanied the elation — something I don’t normally feel coming off the high of the event season. And that's consternation.
Getting Businesses Up to Speed
That’s because when I talk with new and prospective customers, most of the conversations still revolve around the challenges of yesterday, to say nothing of today and tomorrow.
Now the gap between the concepts discussed at industry events and those facing real-world companies is not new. That’s part of what events are all about: bringing smart minds together to discuss what’s possible. That’s all well and good, but this year more than ever, the gap feels more like a chasm, and it’s one we all need to work together to address.
How do we do that? How can we continue to develop technologies capable of changing the world while also getting our hands around the seemingly block-and-tackle challenges — challenges such as backup and recovery, endpoint systems management and database optimization — that still cofound most organizations?
The answer, in a word, is pragmatism. Vendors and end-user technology decision makers alike need to be more pragmatic in the way they talk about and implement technology. And the key to doing that is to step back and assess what I call the four I's of pragmatic data management.
The 4 I's of Pragmatic Data Management
What is your team’s imperative? This seems like a simple question, but it’s amazing how many professionals struggle to answer it clearly, and how often multiple people within the same team will have different understandings of their group’s imperative.
In our rush to keep up with the latest and greatest, we often move forward without clearly understanding or considering our imperative. This is more than just an abstract problem, it’s a pragmatic one, since it leads directly to the purchase and installation of technology that ultimately fails to serve a practical purpose for an organization.
For example, I once worked with a customer who had spent millions of dollars standing up a Hadoop cluster without having any idea what they intended to use it for. When you don’t understand your team’s imperative, you buy technology first and ask what purpose it serves second. And if you do that often enough, for long enough, you wake up one day stuck dealing with yesterday’s problems instead of embracing tomorrow’s opportunities.
As an industry, we’re sorely lacking in the area of investigation. Not when it comes to the purchase of new technologies, mind you. We might not understand our imperative, but when we purchase new technology, we investigate like crazy. RFQs, POCs, FATs — you name it.
But rarely do we hear of organizations performing the same rigorous level of investigation on the technology they already have implemented. Across the industry, we have so many tools already in place that we’re not using in an optimal manner — or worse yet, not using at all.
So instead of running out and implementing more new technology, let's take a step back and investigate whether or not we already have the right tools in place. Let’s investigate and evaluate our past and current implementations and usage patterns to see if we’re in fact making optimal use of the investments we’re already made.
I’m amazed by how often customers’ challenges can be solved with the technology they already have in place. It just takes some investigation.
If you’re part of an IT organization, step back and ask yourself some difficult questions. Are you getting too caught up in the latest craze? Is a given technology really what the organization needs at this point in time? Are you solving problems or creating new ones?
This isn’t a one-way street, by the way. As vendors, it’s time for us to ask the same questions. Does this customer really need the latest and greatest technology we have to offer? Am I distracting my customers from their real challenges when I toss around the latest buzzwords? Is there a simpler solution to what ails them today?
These are not easy questions to ask on either side of the aisle. But in the long run, answering them honestly will get both parties closer to where they want to be (more on this in a moment).
When assessing their data environment, I often ask customers to tell me what impact they were expecting or hoping for from a given technology implementation. And quite often, teams simply don’t have an answer.
Impact is everything. As IT teams, everything you do (and buy) should be geared toward positively impacting the organization, with a clear understanding of its business imperatives. Once again, this is a two-way street. As IT vendors, everything we do (and sell) should be geared toward having the same positive impact on our customers, with a clear understanding of their business imperatives.
The Place We All Want to Be
This article started with the elation that the big ideas and new technologies of the spring event season inspires in me. So why spend so much time talking about how, more often than not, companies are struggling so much with the basics?
Because until we address those struggles, all the conversations taking place in exhibit halls will remain just that — conversations. And that would be a shame, because as I said before, the potential for new technology to change the world for the better is staggering.
Personalized healthcare. Smarter energy use. More efficient agriculture. The possibilities are endless.
These are the types of projects IT teams want to work on, fueled by the technologies IT vendors want to sell. In other words, it’s the place we all want to be, and with a little pragmatism on both sides, it’s a place we can all get to together.
Title image Marleen Trommelen