Bob's Five Tech Trends to NOT Watch Out for in 2013

Our friend Bob Lewis heads a tech consultancy out in the Midwest and has always been our go-to guy for everything from complex industry developments to tech advice and pointers. And Bob delivers it all with his trademark style and wit.

Since everyone seems to have an opinion of what tech trends we should look out for in 2013, I challenged Bob to point out five trends we should NOT follow blindly in 2013.

Here's Bob's list in response:

Trend #1 to Avoid: Trendspotting. Let’s get this straight between us: In business, nothing is worth doing because it’s trendy. It either makes actual sense or it doesn’t. Just think how many companies wasted how much time and money recreating their websites on Facebook, only to discover that while the Supreme Court might think corporations are people too, not very many actual people want to be their Friends.

Trendspotting doesn’t pass the Mom Test. Remember it? When Mom asked you, “If all of your friends were jumping off a cliff, would you jump too?” Following business trends is like that.

Trend #2 to Avoid: Bypassing the IT department: Not only is it fashionable to bypass IT these days, the big research firms have enshrined it as a trend, and it serves IT right because they make everything so hard.

Go right ahead. Bypass IT. If and only if, that is, you (1) are willing to live with a stand-alone “stovepipe” solution that only integrates with the rest of your company’s systems through the magic of your re-typing everything; (2) the application will live in “the cloud,” not your data center; and (3) the only support you’ll need will come from the vendor you’re using.

Otherwise, you’d better call IT first. There’s a reason IT projects are bigger than you’d like, and it isn’t because they’re all idiots, propeller-heads, or budding bureaucrats. It’s because integrating new applications into everything you have is hard, complicated work.

Remember why God was able to create the world in only six days: He didn’t have an installed base.

Trend #3 to Avoid: "Big" Data. There are companies and situations where the amount of data flowing in is truly massive, and being able to gain some knowledge from it will help you make smarter decisions. If you know the questions you want to ask and know how you’ll analyze your data to ask them, go for it.

But for every situation like this there are dozens where all the “data scientist” (what trendy people like to call “statisticians” these days) does is sort through everything, searching for correlations. But as everyone knows, correlation doesn’t imply causation, so what do you think you’ve actually learned? Worse, not all correlations mean anything – many are spurious, for example, the statistically significant correlation between IQ and length of the big toe. Size really doesn’t matter here. Neither will many of the correlations you’ll find mining whatever mass of bits your company has accumulated over the years.

Trend #4 to Avoid: Blaming the consultants. There are times I think companies only bring in consultants for two reasons: To read a script (“Please tell our board of directors we need to make massive investments in Big Data technology. They’ll listen to you!”). Or to take the blame (“Our consultants told us Big Data was a sure thing. So we collected it and analyzed it, and it predicted exponential growth in sheep liver futures. What were we supposed to do? They’re the experts!”)

If you know the answer you want, don’t hire a consultant. Hire an actor. They’re cheaper, there are more of them and they’re more convincing. And if you need a fall guy, call me. I have a whole rate schedule for blame-taking.

But really, don’t. Bring in consultants when you need a fresh pair of eyes on a problem, and a thought process that will give you a different perspective than the one you’re accustomed to. Listen to what the consultant recommends. Understand why he or she recommends it. Then, visualize the result in action in your actual company and decide accordingly.

Consultants know things you don’t, but on the other hand, you know things they don’t. Together, you ought to be smarter than either of you are on your own. Don’t insist on making it the opposite.

Trend #5 to Avoid: Ludditism: “I just want a cell phone that makes phone calls!” is the new “I don’t know how to balance my checkbook!” If that’s all you want, fine and dandy but don’t brag about it. All those other people who like what they can do on a computer enough to want to be able to do it when they aren’t in front of a computer too? Maybe they know something you don’t.

Or maybe they just have different tastes than you do. So if all you want is a cell phone that makes calls, buy one. If you have no need for an iPad, don’t get one.

Just don’t bend my ear about how smart you are for not wanting them, and I promise, I won’t bend your ear about how smart I am for using them.

Follow Bob's thoughts and musings on his blog.


Karen Phelan said...

Loved your post, Bob. I am constantly explaining the difference between causation and correlation so much so that I put it in an appendix in my own book! Plus, with Nate Silver's success spawning a big data fad, I find myself explaining that the problem he solved was incredibly simple compared to most real world problems: one of only two possible outcomes and the outcomes were already known - voters had already decided well before the election. Now, using his model to predict the 2016 election right now is much more like the problems I encounter.

BK said...

Hah! Karen, I actually just sent Bob a copy of your book!