Do trends matter?

You know the answer: It depends. It depends on the reason for the trend. It depends on the hat you’re wearing. And, it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish while wearing that hat.

This being Super Bowl weekend (as I type these words) and as I live a mile from the Super Bowl’s epicenter, a football metaphor is mandatory.

And so, imagine you’re the offensive coordinator for one of the two teams and you notice a trend: Your opponent’s defensive secondary is sluggish on the right side of the field. Should you adjust your offense accordingly?

Well, duh. And you should be alert for signs the trend is ending.

This illustrates the first it-depends: The reasons for the trend matter a lot. If the secondary is sluggish because several players are badly hung over you can ride the trend longer than if there’s no obvious reason for it.

Okay, that’s all the sports metaphor I can stand. Time for the second it-depends — the hat you happen to be wearing.

Imagine your hat says “Investor.” You spot a trend, to all appearances driven by the Greater Fool theory — tulip bulbs, Beanie Babies, Bitcoin if you found last week’s KJR convincing — something is increasing in value for no apparent reason. Being unsure as to whether a greater fool will turn up or not, as a prudent investor you give the trend the same wide berth you’d give a radioactive skunk.

Replace your investor headgear with a cap labeled “CIO” and go back in time a few years to when Bitcoin was newer. Whether or not you personally thought it was going to be around for the long haul, you might have reasonably decided it was important for your company’s financial systems to process it like any other currency.

You also might have decided Bitcoin itself was a losing proposition, but the blockchain technology it relies on might still have offered your business important advantages in securing customer transactions.

Some trends are ephemeral. Others have staying power. Some businesses trade in ephemera. Others don’t.

Which brings up it-depends #3 — what you’re trying to accomplish.

Imagine a CIO who thinks in terms of trends rather than goals.

Our CIO supports a retailer that sells expensive fashions. The entire business is built on spotting and responding to ephemeral trends — preferences for hemlines, necklines, fabrics, and so on that have no real internal logic driving them. Customers just want to look trendier than the people they hang out with. The only thing driving the trend is the trend.

For this sort of retailer, web traffic probably spikes and evaporates as fashion shows and various awards ceremonies come and go. Handling extreme variability in processing demands is something The Cloud is quite good at. The retailer’s CIO, being a trendy sort, long ago put the company’s website on The Cloud. Chalk up a win for trend-following.

Now imagine a CIO who supports a life insurance company. Life insurance companies sell risk products (if you die you win, if you live you lose), investment products (if you live you win, if you die you lose), and hybrid products (if you live or die you win less but something). Purchase transactions and product lifespans last for decades, and part of the appeal of their investment products is that there’s no reason to pay day-to-day attention to them.

The demand for processing power is steady — a situation where Cloud economics just aren’t as interesting.

For the most part, new information technologies are interesting to the extent they provide important business capabilities.

But sadly, most of the analyses aren’t about business capabilities. They’re about surveys of who’s planning to invest in them, and how much.

To illustrate the point, imagine the Froschboscher Group’s annual Shiny Ball Survey reports that 90% of your peers plan to spend heavily on IDA — Intuitive Data Analysis, a technology that mimics the human capability of “trusting my gut.” Does this mean you should too?

That depends on your business, and whether the ability to apply Artificial Stupidity to a problem might prove useful to it.

And it might. If your target market consists of people who trust their guts when making decisions, being able to duplicate their decision-making could prove very useful.

The moral of this week’s story: When planning your company’s technology strategy, trends are effects, not causes. Your job isn’t to follow the trend. It’s to figure out what’s causing it.

If you can identify a potentially valuable business capability, by all means investigate the trend more deeply.

If you can’t, the trend is probably about as important to you as a Beanie Baby.