Time to leverage your buzzword strengths

Take a look at your mission statement, vision statement, or whatever defines what you're trying to accomplish. While you're at it, read some of your recent communications. Does it all look like Microsoft.NET, or does it mean something?

Management Speak: We're market driven.

Translation: We blame customers for our lack of innovation.

-- William Adams wrote to explain the ubiquity of blandness.

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."

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.

To be fair, the courts should prohibit Microsoft from clearly explaining its plans ever again. Based on what I've read so far about Microsoft.NET, the Redmond contingent already is 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.

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, but a framework within which IBM's future products would, in theory, fit.

IBM's core strategy was to control the 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.

Sound familiar?

Microsoft.NET is a nonstarter. Ignore it. If by some miracle it succeeds, you'll pay little penalty for waiting. You have 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 or IBM. It's about you and your IT organidation.

Take a look at your mission statement, vision statement, strategic intent, programme charter, or whatever defines what you're trying to accomplish. 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, paralysed 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. Although 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.

Send Bob some dreamy reactions at issurvivor@cs.com. Bob Lewis is a Minneapolis-based consultant with Perot Systems.

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