More Work, Less Talk

Date:   Monday , November 17, 2008

Internet infrastructure has just about kept up with the growth in traffic. Handhelds look and perform marginally better, while voice technology — both fixed and cellular — is a constant. Wireless data is looking for a usability platform, e-commerce technologies are treading water, B2B technologies offer slight improvements over Internet-powered client-server computing, operating systems are the same . . . we can go on and on.

Most of the entirely new developments that were to create paradigm shifts in the way we live and work are struggling to gain market acceptance — wireless data, B2C and B2B e-commerce, for example. Others have been at best “cool” developments, but unfortunately very rudimentary, and hardly paradigm shifts.

Compare this to the hype that the technology sector has received in these years. Mainstream business magazines made high-tech their prime focus, often conferring revolutionary status on technologies only in their infancy. Technology publications seldom retained objectivity as they exaggerated the viability of unproven business models. Traditional “old” economy businesses were all but written off as dead in the impending boom.

Overall, there has been more talk, less walk, in the high-tech world in the past two years. Companies have been busier doing deals, dealing with capital market conditions, obsessed with raising huge amounts of capital to fuel absurd marketing and business development endeavors. Business became a self-fulfilling prophecy — for itself, by itself. “Does the customer need it?” was an unasked question. So, what has really been achieved in this two-year period? And, in this scenario, what could be expected in the market but a crash?

All the things that were good, but dismissed in the hype, are now back without a vengeance. There are important lessons to be learned. Perhaps the biggest one is that business and economic development cannot be hyper-driven unnaturally. They have to be sustained and carried in a controlled fashion. Push “time to market” too hard, it may become “time to market-crash.”

Of course, it is easy to criticize and regret in hindsight. The high-tech sector is fundamentally not an easy one to be a part of. Sometimes the most well crafted, market-aware, well-executed ideas falter. Every idea demands the charting of new territories, vision shifts for potential customers, changes in habits, character and rules among individuals and businesses. It’s not like opening a restaurant or a coffee shop. People will always need to eat food and drink coffee (of course, each business, including these, have risk factors and challenges). On the other hand, technology markets are more about wanting change, based on a perceived need. How that need is fulfilled by high-tech is often experimental, further adding to the constraints of doing business. The high-tech enterprise that understands this and learns how to traverse these challenges will succeed.

The recent puncturing of the market is good. It will put the nose of the entire sector to the grindstone again. The high-tech sector will hopefully emerge from this stronger and less complacent.

Yogesh Sharma