nimbleness and the need to compete via technology

I've written before about how "the need to compete" is too often puffed up as a driver for technical change. Lots of IT people lack any objectivity around the business value of cool technology.

Take this remark I saw recently

Does your bank offer the ability to deposit a check by taking its picture with your smartphone? When that feature debuted a few years back, I remember thinking it was interesting and convenient enough that if my bank didn’t offer it soon, I’d be willing to switch to one that did.

Perhaps banking is different in the USA. My bank holds the mortgage on my house, and much of my insurance. A wide range of auto-payments flow in and out of my accounts (cheques are dying anyway). The effort to change is great. Only a true geek would think that a cool shiny feature is enough reason to switch banks. When banks are chasing new clients, maybe just maybe such a nifty toy would swing one or two of the geekiest prospects, but to seriously suggest this is a reason for change is - I think - out there.

In a similar vein, a New Zealand IT commentator recently seriously suggested the solution to some government departments still running Windows XP desktops is to convert the entire civil service to Chromebooks. I mean FFS. Sure this isn't about competition, it's about cost savings instead, but it is the same blinkered technical delusions.

For those interested, my remarks on a discussion of this absurd idea were:

Who exactly would pay for it? And what would be the business benefit? "Cool" doesn't count as a benefit.
Where to begin?:
- thousands of legacy apps on mainframes, MS-Access, you name it....
- retraining 40,000 staff
- reengineering all government security defences, if they even can be re-engineered, to protect Google Apps and Office 365
- Several government departments with policy that prohibits any restricted material going offshore (especially to an unstable country like the USA, even before it was found to be spying on its allies)
- Maintaining access to millions of existing government documents
- Wifi installations and upgrades in hundreds of offices

Down here on Earth it's quite a nice day today....

I'm almost ready to get a Chromebook myself. I test Google regularly to see if the functionality is there yet in docs, presentations and spreadsheets. I've managed to replace Outlook and MS-Project (and moved from MYOB to Xero) but I'm still stuck on MS-Visio, and right now not even Office 365 can offer the functionality of MS-Word and Excel - in fact Office 365 is a heap of crap, not even close. I've been going for years, reskilling, porting apps... but I still can't cut loose from a Windows desktop. If it is this hard for my geek one-man-band ....

I'd love to see surveys of these companies (and departments) a year after they supposedly adopt Google Apps/Docs, to see how many staff have an "exemption" to remain on a Windows MS-Office. But that's almost beside the point. Desktop productivity tools are only one issue.

Inland Revenue are spending a billion dollars so they can re-engineer their systems. It will take years. To dismiss the cost and effort to do this pan-government as "it will have to be ported at some stage in future" is glib. The IR systems are up to 30 years old. There's no reason that other government systems won't have similar lifetimes before they've fully squeezed the asset and have to regenerate. i.e. this isn't going to change any day or year or even decade soon, and the costs will be immense.

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