Are We Arguing Over Money, Again?By Faisal Hoque | Posted 2008-06-23 Email Print
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Money makes the world go ‘round. And money makes our heads spin when it comes to wise technology investments.
We can have logical, orderly, scholarly thoughts about business technology, but when we use the word “investment,” we can get the flying monkeys in our heads. This isn’t unusual. It’s probably true, for example, that the whole personal financial advice industry is driven by intelligent, normally rational people who can’t make decisions on their own about their own money.
When we start thinking in terms of “investing” in technology, we stick financial hooks in everything and yank and pull our decisions accordingly. We think of this quarter’s numbers, instead of next year’s customers. We think of meeting our budget, instead of meeting our competitors in the marketplace. We are torn between the organization’s incentives to cut to the bone and its desperate need for the technology backbone we know is available.
Of course, companies have always demonstrated an ability to act boldly when their backs are against the wall. When their existence is threatened, they do what is necessary to survive, and damn the next quarter’s numbers. But can they do it year in and year out, through market gyrations and economic cycles?
They can, if they understand that there is no steady state today, that survivors are engaged non-stop in innovating, renewing and perfecting. This demands, among other things, a different time perspective. At General Electric, Jeffrey Immelt has worked to change the company’s time frame; executives, for example, can expect to stay longer in assignments to build up their expertise. And when it comes to investing, he told Harvard Business Review:
“I have the…broadest time horizon in the company. So looking at the evolution of the hybrid locomotive, we’re talking about tens of millions of dollars. For the program manager, it’s huge, the most massive thing he’s ever managed. For John Dineen, who runs the rail business, it’s pretty big. For me, you know, it’s OK. We can do it. The program manager wants it to get done tomorrow. John Dineen says, ‘Jeez, I may be in this job four, five years.’ But I’ll probably be here much longer. I’ll see the hybrid locomotive─I absolutely know that. So I can bring to bear the right risk-taking and time horizon trade-offs.”
At GE and every company, each activity must eventually be judged by dollars–it either earns them or saves them, and it does so to a greater or lesser extent than other activities. It is the interim, between the “go” decision and the financial judgment, that matters. It’s the inclusion of intangible measures.