I’m mad at Bob Metcalfe.
But first … IS Survivalist Roger Crawford points out one of Microsoft’s business practices that’s even more unfair than its antitrust shenanigans, namely, how it describes new products or product plans: “We are developing product X that does functions a, b and c and we expect these types of people to use it.”
Its competitors, who say things like, “We intend to leverage our strengths in the buzzword arena to provide our customers with the tools they need,” are handicapped, because it’s never quite clear what they’re planning to produce, nor for whom.
For fairness’s sake, the courts should prohibit Microsoft from clearly explaining its plans ever again. Based on what I’ve read so far about Microsoft.NET, it appears the Redmond contingent is already complying, because just what the heck are they mumbling about, anyway?
As soon as I read about Microsoft.NET, I thought, “This is Microsoft’s SAA!” I figured I’d write about it eventually. Metcalfe had the same insight, though, so there goes my claim to originality. Nuts.
If you don’t remember SAA, it stands for “Systems Application Architecture”. IBM, in the early days of its implosion, developed it to do for applications what its Systems Network Architecture (SNA) had done for networking: Provide a standard architecture IBM could control. SAA wasn’t a product. It was a framework within which IBM’s future products would, in theory, fit.
IBM’s core strategy was to control architecture. Even when companies bought non-IBM components, everything fit the IBM model for functional elements, specifications, and interfaces. The strategy worked because you could buy every component from IBM if you wanted to. SAA failed because the only thing IBM had was intentions.
Microsoft.NET is a non-starter. Ignore it. If, miraculously, it succeeds, you’ll pay little penalty for waiting. You have absolutely no reason to be an early adopter (and of what? There’s no product!), and lots of reasons to wait and see what happens.
But this column isn’t about Microsoft, nor IBM, nor, for that matter, about Metcalfe’s beating me to the punch. It’s about you and your IT organization.
Take a look at your mission statement, vision statement, strategic intent, program charter, or whatever defines what you’re trying to accomplish these days. While you’re at it, read some of your recent communications. Does it all look like Microsoft.NET, or does it mean something?
Meaningless visions like Microsoft.NET are punishments for the sins of our forefathers. American industry, paralyzed by a generation of bottom-line managers who couldn’t see past financial statements, awoke one day to the need for vision. Ever since, every self-styled leader in business has made sure to start at least one sentence per day by saying, “My vision for this is …”
Don’t do that. Let others decide whether you’re a visionary or not. Your job is to paint a compelling vision for the future. While it’s tempting to be an artist, painting blurry abstract swirls others can interpret as they choose, abstract artistry isn’t leadership. It isn’t vision. It’s Microsoft.NET.
Grand visions are wonderful things. But if nobody can figure out that you’re developing product X, with functions a, b and c, you aren’t a visionary.
You’re just daydreaming.