Overcoming Tech Fatigue Syndrome

I spent some time recently with business leaders in the Bay Area. We discussed a number of topics — finance, marketing, alliance, and exit strategies. But, surprisingly, one subject area never came up: e-business, the Internet, or anything even remotely related to information technology.

This led me to ask the question, Where has all the interest in Web technologies gone? How can a topic that was at the center of every business discussion suddenly disappear or become irrelevant to many business leaders?

My conclusion: Many companies are suffering from “Tech Fatigue Syndrome” (TFS).

You know the symptoms:

  • Customer aversion to engage in any discussion related to Web technology
  • Poor reception of any technology-related products or services
  • Delay of all corporate Web investments
  • Termination of lengthy technical implementations
  • Downsizing of corporate IT or Web-related organizations

Causes and Cures for TFS

There are multiple causes behind the syndrome: poor success rate of early Web initiatives, lengthy system implementations, and lack of impact on core business drivers. At a more emotional level, though, I think companies are simply burnt out. The overall energy and faith in technology as an empowering agent has disappeared in a matter of months. And with this decline, a state of inertia has overcome all business related to the Web.

So, how do we, practitioners of the Web, combat the syndrome? Is it even practical to think the business psyche around the Net can be changed?

I believe the cures for TFS are relatively straightforward, and thankfully the conditions are ripe for a turnaround. Now, I’m not saying it will be easy, but the current environment actually represents a tremendous opportunity for companies that can address the root causes of TFS.

Course of Therapy

Improve the install. Implementation costs for the average business solution far exceed the costs for licensing and maintenance. I have never understood this metric and why software companies are not more aggressive in addressing the issue. Imagine what Microsoft’s sales would look like if it cost you $500 to implement every $100 piece of software. That is the situation most corporations face when making technology decisions. No wonder there is hesitancy for new IT investment — the economics simply do not make sense.

Improve the quality. It has been a long-running assumption that bugs are a natural part of all business software. I don’t think this is an acceptable position to hold for companies planning to survive the syndrome. A huge opportunity lies before the company that can produce error-free products that effectively eliminate support and maintenance requirements.

Walk a mile in your customers shoes. I believe many of today’s solution vendors learn about their customers needs in an ad-hoc fashion. As a result, many of the off-the-shelf solutions produced by today’s companies address a fraction of the actual requirements of a customer.

Communicate clearly. There are many lessons to learn from the first era of Web communications. One of the most important lessons has been the value of clearly communicating to your customer base. Technology does not need to be complex to have value. Solutions that have clear value and are easy to understand have a greater likelihood of overcoming TFS.

In conclusion, TFS can be fatal if not treated properly. The symptoms should signal to today’s vendors that a new approach is needed to successfully sell and market technology-related solutions. If you have any TFS experiences, I’d like to hear about them. More important, I’d like to learn how you are planning to overcome the condition.

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