In your role as an executive or general manager in the small to medium enterprise, here is a small story to demonstrate how critical it can be to understand the basics of technology. Not be an expert, but to be IT educated to the relevant level of detail.
One of our larger customers asked us to collaborate with another of their suppliers to work with some software code. The idea was simple enough, we supply software product ‘A’, the other business supplied product ‘B’. The general idea was that some of our customers data could be manipulated via our product, or the other organizations product.
A few hours of meetings and some more hours of research later, we identified a major issue that would cause a high level of risk, and excess costs. (and who knows what else)
And – as two independent suppliers to this customer, it took both of us to convince our “non tech savvy” customer of this issue.
A poor analogy
Anyone who has been following along with this blog will know that I try to use non technology analogies to explain technology, Although I confess that I am having a difficult time doing that with that in this post! (If someone has a better one, chime in here!)
As imperfect as this analogy is – imagine that you are handed a piece of paper, written in English and simply asked to re-type this document into a computer document. (assuming you are in an English speaking part of the world) That is easy enough – read the original and type.
Next, now lets also imagine being given the same document except that it is written in French, Italian or Spanish. and you cannot speak or understand any of these languages! This could be more difficult – you don’t speak the languages, but you realize that you can still type the document. Because French, Italian or Spanish still use our familiar Latin alphabet, the letter ‘e’ or the letter ‘t’ is still on your computer keyboard, and if the original document has the letter ‘e’ in a word, simply typing it is not an problem.
So let me call this use of the Latin alphabet; a framework, or an engine.
Here is where a problem comes in, now consider; if I hand you the same printed document, except this time it is written in Japanese pictographs, Arabic script, or perhaps Cyrillic, or Hebrew scripts. Now what do you have? You still cannot speak or understand the language, but as an added difficulty, now you don’t even have the appropriate characters on your computer keyboard!
The alphabet, or characters of these non Latin based languages use a different framework, or engine, that the Latin alphabet does not have. Sure, there are tools that would map our Latin keyboard to these characters, to be able to physically type these characters, but it won’t be easy, or fast!
Similar to my admittedly poor analogy, within the software development realm, there are different application code frameworks or engines.
And as suppliers to this customer, this is where our problem came in. And this is also where you as a small to medium enterprise general manager or executive have to be educated enough about technology to understand the risks.
As one supplier to this customer, our application development framework consists of a platform and servers running a framework called .Net (simply pronounced dot net) The other supplier was using a development and server framework called Java.
To each of these frameworks, or engines, software code written in the ‘language’ the other framework expects and understands is as alien as my analogy of trying to type a document with an alphabet that is not even on our computer keyboard. And as I stated earlier – sure you can find other tools or workarounds to force your computer servers to understand both frameworks, but again it is not fast, and not easy – and not fast, not easy means more time and expense in maintainability, management and software development time.
And time is money.
The SMB Takeaway
As an executive or general manager in the SMB space, you do not need to be a expert in understanding the plumbing of software code and the development life cycle, but you need to understand at the relevant level of detail. To be educated about technology to a level where when you are advised of this type of issue, you can go into it with your eyes open regarding cost, risk, and effort.