by August 11, 2003 0 comments

Technology changes and, having changed, will change again and yet again. And, if a technology has matured enough, the user won’t even know when the changeover happens. 

Let me explain. A TV station adds new hardware and software to its bag of tricks all the time. But, you do not have to change your TV each time it implements a new video-management or billing system. However, in the IT/communication tech-space, we have not yet reached such a level of continuity across technology changes. The discomfort of hardware upgrades, reinstalls, upgrades and patch management and password re-entry remain. 

In the telecom space, we are at two distinct planes. For basic services, technology changes have achieved some sort of nirvana and you do not change telephone instruments every time newer technology or more features are added at the backend. But, with cellphones, it is a different story. Even if we keep the fashion angle aside, we are still in the throes of technology changes, which require handset changes as well. 

These examples have in them the answer to the question why disruption happens at the user end when a new technology is ushered in. Simply put, there is a certain time in the life-cycle of any technology, where the front-end stabilizes, irrespective of the changes at the back-end. And, that takes time to achieve–basic telephony has been around for some time and has stabilized, while mobile telephony is very new.

Unfortunately, the PC has been around for ages, but still shows no signs of stabilizing. Initiatives in this direction, such as the network computer, the netPC and SunRay have failed. A reason for PC specs not stabilizing is the business model followed by vendors. Telephone handset makers earn their money by selling more and more units to newer users, not newer ones to existing users. Telecom equipment and software vendors are a different breed and play in a different market. Also, those who sell TV sets are different from the ones who sell equipment to studios. In the case of the PCs, the ones who sell the desktops and associated software are the same who sell servers and software at the back-end. They use the same ‘make them upgrade so that we can earn’ business model at both ends. Having tasted success with that, they have, perhaps, no incentive to move to a model, where the front-end is stable for longer periods. 

The computer market is different in that significant amounts of processing is done at the front-end also, and the components used at the front and back-end are more or less the same. Perhaps, the culprit is the fact that the computer market is still a far cry away in size from the TV or telephone markets.

IT implementation in organizations also follows a similar pattern. The more mature the implementation and the implementing team, the lesser the discomfort to users every time an upgrade is done. Unfortunately, it is common for routine upgrade work at the back-end to disrupt work at the user-end. With a well co-ordinated upgrade routine, it is possible that the only way users know about one is from newer looking machines and faster operations and not from the inconveniences normally associated with an upgrade of hardware or software.

Krishna Kumar

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