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The top five IT myths

A CTO in the know is out to debunk some of IT's tall tech tales -- and help CIOs get the right stuff on their radar.

Sasquatch, the Yeti, Nessie, Excalibur and the kid who exploded when he washed down Pop Rocks with a Coke.

Those are five great myths of popular culture, but did you know IT has five myths of its very own? At least according to Ben Gaucherin, chief technology officer of Sapient Corp., a business consulting and IT services firm based in Cambridge, Mass.

Gaucherin gets his hands dirty with all kinds of technologies. Based on his experiences, he can recommend technologies that may help CIOs meet their business needs.

Basically, Gaucherin shovels through the hype to help CIOs decide which technologies are worth the press releases they're printed on. Through his work and the feedback he gets from client CIOs, he's come up with his "Top five IT myths:"

  1. Myth: RFID is just a better bar code

    Gaucherin said radio frequency identification goes beyond the bar code advances that Wal-Mart famously pushes on its suppliers and is something all CIOs need to consider.

    "RFID in supply chains and retail has gotten a lot of attention, but it has potential for benefits well beyond the current stories being covered around [government and retail] mandates," he said.

    Just this week, IBM announced it will spend $250 million over the next five years developing RFID. Hewlett-Packard Co. also said it will pump $150 million into the technology, and Sun Microsystems Inc. is also pumping cash into RFID development. Gaucherin said this isn't just hype; it's something CIOs need to watch.

    "It's an opportunity for any CIO whose organization is in the business of moving or dealing with things or people [to ask] how this technology can change the game. He noted that a chain of casinos is using RFID to help track its high rollers, as well as keep an eye on people who may have gambling problems. Hospitals, he said, could use it to reduce medical errors and keep patients safe.

    "Don't be distracted by RFID being a retailer or supply chain technology," he added. "Think through what it could mean for your business."

    Richard Service, CIO of crystal wholesaler St. George Crystal Ltd., in Jeannette, Pa., is keeping his eye on RFID, but isn't planning to move on it anytime soon.

    "The technology has a long way to go, and [right now] the cost is very high," he said. "There are huge infrastructure issues that need to be addressed; I don't see any payback [for us] in the near term."

  2. Myth: Instant messaging: Not an enterprise technology

    Gaucherin believes that instant messaging (IM) could be an instant boon for productivity in the enterprise and is grossly undervalued by business.

    "The opportunity with IM is if you have something that can be dealt with in a simple request and responsive way," he said. "CIOs are starting to think about leveraging IM so that [projects like] intranets don't turn into big, complex projects."

    While some CIOs worry about IM opening up holes in the network, Gaucherin believes the security risk is no greater than anything companies have encountered with browsers and e-mail. And the effort to secure IM may pale next to the benefits.

    "IM could dramatically reduce the time and cost to deploy some enterprise applications," he said. "Adapting IM to a secure platform wouldn't cost too much."

  3. Myth: Open source is the anti-commercial community

    Like free love before it, free software could be on the next train to Nostalgiaville. While open source emerged from the idea that software development should be collaborative and its fruits free, these days the "movement" is beginning to "sell out," and act more like its commercial counterparts.

    The development of "conglomerates" and a desire to fund competing projects have helped open source trade its sandals for wingtips.

    "Large open source projects like Apache have forced the commercial world to get a little closer to the open source community -- and there's been learning on both sides," Gaucherin said.

    " The notion of control was foreign to the open source community, but you can see it more and more coming up." He noted the rise of Geronimo, a J2EE app server that competes with JBoss and Orion, as just one example of open source shedding its "free-for-all" mentality.

  4. Myth: SOA is the future

    Is it hype in here or is that just SOA?

    Service- oriented architecture, the so-called new paradigm, will cause a huge change in the way software is designed, written, sold and run. It is the most hyped technology concept of 2004, but it really isn't the future at all.

    It's the past.

    According to Gaucherin, SOA was a little more proprietary and a little more expensive a decade or two ago. And while better tools and standards exist today, SOA is still as complicated as it was 15-20 years ago.

    "The only big change is that [SOA] has gone from being available to just a few organizations to becoming accessible to the masses," he said. "The change is now making it possible for CIOs to think about taking advantage of it.

    "We've known that SOA is a good thing. The challenge is not in the technology, but in change management – the people change behind it is difficult. When that happens, it's a beautiful thing."

  5. Myth: There is no 'next big thing'

The last big thing was the Web. Gaucherin refers to the next big thing as an "an oldie but a goodie: a business process revolution that sports tech improvements this time around.

"We've certainly seen [more] interest in process awareness. It's part of being more efficient and cutting costs," he said.

Gaucherin believes that the business process revolution will have an impact similar to RFID and open source and will permanently change the way companies do business.

But Gaucherin also thinks CIOs who are looking for the silver bullet need to focus on the bullets already in the chamber.

"I believe firmly in making the most of what you have," he said. But he also believes CIOs who don't at least keep an eye on RFID, IM, open source, SOA and business process technologies could be making a big mistake.

"CIOs acknowledge that their job has gotten more complex. They must be organizationally savvy, have the ability to focus on what they have and keep eye on developments that should influence their decision making today.

"It's a balancing act," he added. "Focusing on one thing at the expense of another is a recipe for disaster."

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