Change is scary. And not just a little — it's really, really scary. What else (besides money) explains why entrenched technologies continue on way past their time?
Let's face it, "If it ain't broke don't fix it" is still in full force ... even all these years after the whole TQM (Total Quality Management) thing rampaged through our corporate cultures. We're all gun shy when it comes to pulling the plug on "the old way" and jumping into something new with both feet.
Just consider for a moment the current buzz about the cloud. We see it mentioned in TV commercials, in trade publications, books, etc. But strangely enough when it comes to implementing cloud-based customer communication systems, many highly experienced people in our industry drop back and start spreading FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) about it.
I recently read a posting on an industry discussion board that said, in effect, that design tools used by various VDP systems will need to stay in the thick client world because of the ever-changing requirements for HTML and web browsers. The writer made the point that browser-based design tools will face the same issues as design tools based on things like MS Word — that because the base product is controlled by another company who (like all software companies) is continually changing their product.
He's correct in pointing out a concern that many people interested in implementing cloud-based systems will have. However, as we've seen so many times in the past, concern over a perceived "weakness" of a product, service or new invention only serves to slow down the inevitable — it never brings it to a halt. And sometimes in retrospect, the FUD is just plain goofy.
FUD has a distinguished history.
Let's consider for example the Abbott of Sponheim, AKA, Johannes Trithemius. During the period when Johannes Gutenberg's invention was gaining wide acceptance throughout Europe, the Abbott had a very profitable enterprise that employed several monks at reproducing Bibles.
While the Bibles they produced were quite literally works of art, you can imagine the Abbott's concern when he found print shops using Gutenberg presses to produce seemingly unlimited copies of the Bible at costs that dramatically undercut his prices.
He decided the best way to fight this threat was to write a treatise on the evils of the printing press. Like others at the time, he said the press was the invention of the devil and its use put people in jeopardy of eternal damnation.
Interestingly, he decided that in order for it to be effective he needed to get his message out as quickly and to as many readers as possible. To accomplish this, he had it printed! History doesn't tell us if he saw the irony in this.
Let's move ahead several centuries to the early days of World War One. In 1914, Marshall Foch, the commander of French Forces said, "Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value."
That same year, a German soldier serving on the Marne made this note in his diary, "The French plane dropped a bomb. Three soldiers and seven horses were killed. We have no idea how to protect ourselves from this hell from the sky."
It seems to me that lowly German soldier had a much better idea of how airplanes would change warfare than the great French general. But then again, he was on the receiving end of the "bad news."
Now we're jumping ahead just a few more years — to the middle of the 20th century. When that great prophet, Groucho Marx was asked what he thought of television he said, "I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book."
Of course, we all know that Grouch's career had a second act because of his show You Bet Your Life on television.
Finally, we're into the later years of the 20th century. When asked a question about the potential for home computers, Ken Olson, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) famously said, "There is no reason for an individual to have a computer in his home."
Oops. While DEC was responsible for developing what were arguably the most powerful mini computers of their time, Mr. Olson obviously missed this one. DEC was absorbed into Compaq (irony again raising its head) who was subsequently acquired by HP. And while there are no DEC computers in homes, there certainly are HPs.
And my personal favorite: Years ago, I sold "black boxes" that did translations between incompatible word processing systems. In those days, just prior to PCs bursting on the scene, there were approximately 130 different types of word processing systems available. Things like CPT (Cassette Powered Typewriters), Xerox 860, IBM Displaywriter, Micom, NBI (Nothing But Initials — no, I'm not kidding), etc.
Our translators allowed users to type a document on one system and communicate it to another for further editing. And I'm here to say it was a great business. Our technology was the basis for the very first electronic mail system implemented by Ford Motor Company. There's not enough space here for me to explain it in detail and you'd probably think I was pulling your leg, so just trust me — it was wonderful technology for its time.
When PCs with software like WordStar, Mulitmate and Samna came along, we had a lengthy debate about whether or not they would replace WP systems. In retrospect, it's hard for me to admit this, but I came down squarely on the side that believed WP systems were here forever. I figured that PC keyboards were all wrong for word processing applications (they were, but GUIs took care of that) and WPs would hang on for ergonomic reasons.
It only took another year or so for me to understand just how wrong I was. A year or so after that, you would have been hard pressed to even find a WP system — they'd all gone away.
So when you hear someone spreading FUD about cloud-based client communications, just remember what an illustrious career it has had throughout history. I suggest choosing to ignore the folks who are spending their time spreading this information and spend your time learning how you can leverage this new model.
I'm pretty sure it's going to catch on.
SCOTT BANNOR began his career in the document industry in 1980 and has held sales and marketing positions with Exxon, Philips N.V., Racal-Milgo, FormScan, Moore, Bell & Howell, Johnson & Quin, PrintSoft and GMC. Currently, he is the Midwest Regional Manager for Elixir Technologies. Mr. Bannor is a noted industry observer, author and regular speaker at Xplor Globals, Regionals and other industry events. For more information, visit www.tango.elixir.com.