Conveyor Belts and Landfill Technologies

By Bruce F. Webster  |  Posted 2009-03-04 Print this article Print

A brief taxonomy of technology lifecycles.

“Conveyor Belt” Technologies

Some technologies do, in fact, arrive in serviceable form, but end up having -- or appearing to have -- a limited lifespan. This can be for any of several reasons: new and better technologies in the pipeline; failure to gain sufficient traction in the marketplace; lack of support from third parties; and so on.
Adopting and deploying such a technology is a bit like trying to grow a garden on a long conveyor belt: you need to hope that you can plant the seeds, grow the plants, harvest the fruit, and transplant the crops before your garden falls off the end of the belt.

In the end, all technologies are more or less conveyor belt technologies; after all, few of us are using WordStar on MS-DOS (or CP/M!) to create our documents, though I’m sure someone out there is. But as an IT manager, your goal is make sure the technology’s lifecycle is long enough to accomplish all that you need to.

“Landfill” Technologies

Finally, there are some technologies that are, in effect, dead on (or soon after) arrival. My inspiration for the “landfill” term comes from the IBM PCjr, which was IBM’s first attempt (some 25 years ago) to build a true home computer that was, by all accounts, pretty wretched. It was such a flop in the market that IBM was reported to have buried large quantities of unsold computers in landfills.
But the landfills I’m talking about are metaphorical. Some technologies arrive with fanfare, transforming organizations; some land with a resounding thud or splat and are frequently shunned. One recent example could be Microsoft Vista, which by one report has only achieved a 10% penetration on North American and European PCs a full two years after Microsoft released it. That could qualify it as a landfill technology, or you could simply see it as an underdone technology that – with luck – will be fixed in Windows 7.

As that last example shows, overlaps exist among these four patterns, and often they are only clear in retrospect. But as an IT manager you need to ask yourself if the technologies you are looking at adopting fall into any of these four categories. If they do, then you may well be better off looking for a different solution.

 [Copyright (c) 2009 by Bruce F. Webster]
Bruce F. Webster is an international IT consultant. You can reach him at bwebster@bfwa.com or via his websites at brucefwebster.com and bfwa.com.

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates LLC. He works with organizations to help them evaluate troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects, or to assess IT systems and products for possible investment/acquisition. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan.

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