Innovation Still Matters

The heavy fog of buzzword-compliant marketing and breathless exaggeration surrounding most technology products would give any sober IT manager pause before purchasing a mouse pad, let alone something important. That's especially true today, when proving the value of IT spending with hard numbers and bottom-line results is not just politically smart but also downright essential.

In our front-page story last week ["Windows XP Slow to Gain Foothold," QuickLink 32873], the reluctance of corporate IT to jump on the next Microsoft bandwagon spoke volumes for the practical, payback-oriented mind-set of technology buyers.

"This is an upgrade that offers nothing to a business customer," one CIO said dismissively about XP. Others cited the high costs, the low need and the general weariness from having just slogged through the Windows 2000 upgrade.

Yet we know that even with IT budgets flattened and spending squeaky tight, the need for business innovation is still there, perhaps more pressing than ever before. So, what products are worth a second look through the beady eyes of IT buyers? The best source for that answer, of course, would be you and your peers, and that's whom we turned to for Computerworld's Innovative Technology Awards 2002.

Beginning on page 26 in this issue, we profile the 10 winners in this customer-choice contest, which drew about 200 nominations from the ranks of IT customers themselves. The winners ranged from small companies you've likely never heard of to major vendors such as IBM and Software AG. Their offerings included everything from network security and enterprise software to data management, biometrics and wireless optical technology.

In some cases, the ROI was memorably speedy. When First Citizens Bank installed an intrusion-detection system from Entercept Security Technologies, it was just three days before the infamous Code Red worm struck nationwide. "We kept humming along, without skipping a beat, so . . . that was a definite return on investment," said Jay Ward, a senior network security analyst at the bank.

In other cases, the customer satisfaction results were compelling enough to wave the expenditure past budget gatekeepers. Terabeam's wireless optics product, for example, enabled the Elliott Grand Hyatt Hotel in Seattle to provide more flexible high-bandwidth connections for the demanding techies who often stay there.

In every case, we noticed that the driving force behind the tech investments in these companies' products was the potential for real payback, really fast. Nobody was looking for the buzz of a hot product, but everybody was looking for ways to improve business results. Innovation still matters.

* * *

Another way we hope to help you sort out the most promising products on technology's cutting edge is with a column that made its debut in our news section last week . Longtime technology journalist Mark Hall will be taking a skeptical, flinty-eyed look at upcoming products and services in his "On the Mark" column each week. "The best IT operations use a balance of mundane products and some pretty cool technology," Mark notes. "Staying aware of what's on the cutting edge - and what's worth a second look - is easier said than done with literally thousands of companies vying for your attention."

We hope you'll find Mark's new column to be a highly useful, hype-free technology filter. His mandate is to look ahead and detect the most intelligent signs of life in the vendor community. He'd love to hear from you with ideas and suggestions at mark_hall@computerworld.com.

Maryfran Johnson is editor in chief of Computerworld. You can contact her at maryfran_johnson@computerworld.com.

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Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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