I sit on a few boards and am constantly asked why a new software/hardware/infrastructure tool failed to turn a business problem around.  One company is struggling with an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), another is having trouble with a major hardware/cloud purchase, and yet another is foiled by a Big Data play.

I almost always find one of two problems.  (I used a car analogy at a recent board meeting, so I’ll continue that here.)

  1. They bought the wrong part.  Yes, even geeks can make the mistake of not knowing what they need.  At times, we make purchases hoping it will solve a problem we may or may not have.  A shiny new object that will most definitely cure cancer if we can just cram it into our architecture.
  2. An Amateur Mechanic and a Maserati.  Probably enough said here, but I see time and time again where we turn a programmer or network engineer onto a problem they haven’t been trained for.  For example, virtualization and cloud technologies require a whole different skill set than a typical systems administrator.  Without proper training, standards and development, a whole new slew of problems can crop up on deployment.

We need to have lots of tools in our tool belt, but we must know which one to use.  And that can be tricky.  When I first joined the state as CTO, I killed a project creating a monolith environment that included an ESB, Identity Management and a whole host of other tools that – while they would have been nice to haves – weren’t required for the business problem.  We saved millions and the new project delivered on time and budget.   Plus, we didn’t stand up a huge software solution requiring maintenance for years that we didn’t know how to support.

Before you add a new technology into your environment, you should perform an assessment around it.

  • Does this tool fit the problem?  Is it overkill?  Or if it has a ton of bells and whistles, can you leverage that (now or later on)?
  • Can I exit the tool easily?  In general, I abhor getting locked into a tool.  I would rather a vendor make a product I can’t live without than force me into it.
  • Do I have the proper skills in house?  If not, can I get it easily and relatively cheaply – not just today, but in the future?
  • Cutting edge is fine, but has it been tested in a robust, production environment?
  • How quickly could I replace it?  One of a kind technologies can be painful to say the least.

Of course this isn’t a comprehensive list, but you get the idea.  Ensure you are buying the right part and have the right skills to maintain it.  If you need a hammer, buy a great hammer.  But, if you need a screwdriver, that hammer is going to look awfully rusty in a few years.

a mostly well-informed, technically savvy, sometimes extroverted introvert

One Comment on “The Maserati and the Mechanic

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