Friday, January 1, 2010

Chromium Plated Muffler Bearings

My brother was a mechanic for General Motors for well over 15 years. My Dad is one of those guys that can fix an ill wind, so long as it comes with an engine. In fact, I can trace my family's repair-ability back to my Great-Grandfather who closed down a Livery Service in Warren Ohio, to open up the Morey Brothers Auto Garage. As for me, I'm a digital guy who can't tell the difference between a spark plug and a chromium plated muffler bearing. Fortunately, my brother gives me a discount every time he fixes my muffler bearings.

One thing I have learned is that a car has four tires (I *can* count), and that if the tires are not perfectly aligned, you'll end up with less control over the car, lower fuel efficiency, more wear on the tires, and increased friction in the muffler bearings (or so I'm told). Alignment is very important. I thought of this recently when someone asked me about my tag-line for this blog, i.e. The process by which the technical capabilities of an organization are aligned with the business goals.

What exactly does that mean, and how could the two be un-aligned? As a company that prides itself on managing risk, we'll often say that technologically, we are a fast follower. Our business model is not dependent on implementing the very latest in technology. This may sound 'icky', but I'm not suggesting we use stone knives and bear-skin rugs, rather we have a vibrant and thriving Information Technology discipline based on proven platforms, technologies, and partners.

A few years ago, one of our developers wanted to use (the then very new) Java version 1.2 for his application. This would have meant accelerating the deployment of new J2EE Application Servers (which would have required more memory), and a host of other changes. I'm not even sure that 1.2 was out of beta, but even if it were, it represented cutting edge capability, memory management, garbage collection, thread management, and container-based processing.

The developer was adamant that he NEEDED Java 1.2. I asked him, if 1.2 were not yet invented, would he cancel the project? Of course not, he'd find another way to deliver the business function. We have since deployed newer versions of Java, but remain generally a version behind the latest and greatest because we value our ability to understand, manage, and communicate risk.

Our customers are not coming to us because we guide the space shuttle, can hit a bullet with a bullet, or polish muffler bearings. They come to us for superior performance which invokes feelings of ease, confidence, and achievement. By aligning our technology stack to our business model, we are in the best position possible to architect a great enterprise.

The next time I see my brother I'm going to ask him just how gullible he thinks I am. "Spark Plugs?", come on Ed, I'm no mechanic, but I can recognize a con.

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