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June - 2007 - issue > Sage Speak
Agents of customer driven inovation
Dan Crain
Friday, June 1, 2007
There is a paradigm shift in the role of CTOs. From merely being persons who set technology directions to their companies, they’re now talking to customers to understand what to build next. ]

My belief in customer driven technology stems from my experience of working with Deutsche Bank. I was then involved in buying Brocade’s technology and deploying it in the bank. Every time we brought in new technologies, I wished it had a feature that could address our concern most succinctly. But somehow we never found them; like what I call the chefs and the diner’s differences. The chef serves you what you think is the best and the diner has his differences, in say, the choice of sauce. So somehow customer perspectives need its due consideration.

Now as a CTO at Brocade, once as a customer of its technology, I have often faced questions on how customer inclusiveness may detract companies from building big bang technologies that could revolutionize the world. May be true, but how much of big bang technologies can enterprises deploy considering there has already been huge investments that have gone into equipping their centers—both in terms of hardware and software. While creation of revolutionary technology is very exciting, it is important to understand that commercial IT businesses welcome evolutionary technologies. They always look forward to adding one more component of technology that could facilitate their work, than supplant the entire range of equipments with a new one. And that is what we call the adoption cycle of enterprises, which are preferred to be slow and steady, but not shaky.

Surprisingly, there would be a few takers of such rather conventional thought in the cutting edge technology industry. But a glance at the history of enterprise technology adoption will stand as a testimonial for itself.

However, the same history takes the side of revolutionary technology only in cases of consumer adoption. A new music player like ipod or a new age camera can beckon consumers towards them as they discard their old gizmos. Revolutionary ideas are a product from the closet of university research labs or startups.

It is important to reckon that IT is already a matured entity by now. While revolutionary ideas do come our way, it is more about innovation than invention in technologies especially catering to the enterprise space. So therein comes the terminology of customer driven innovation (remember it’s never “customer driven invention!”) that sets good business chugging at most companies that build technologies for enterprises. CTOs role today expands to building this customer rapport, than the single minded pursuit of revolutionary technology. But in order to bring this rapport to a point of driving innovation, all customers and partners should have a transparent view of the company. The CEO, sales and the marketing personnel should communicate the company’s technology in their respective styles and perspectives that it should always elicit an honest response from the customers.

Such responses equip CTOs to indulge in course corrections intermittently, charting the technology roadmap in most productive way. Productivity always needs to implicitly factor in your customers’ potential capital spend. And that often fits in for evolutionary technologies as against the revolutionary one.

The author is Chief Technology Officer, Brocade

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