Editorial: Coming Full Cycle ... Again

This past January, William Hewlett, age 87, died. It was in 1938, with $538, that Mr. Hewlett, with his friend and business partner David Packard, started a company whose name was decided with a coin toss; thus, pioneering Silicon Valley and, quite arguably, the computer age itself. But, that's not necessarily all William Hewlett will be remembered for; and despite his noted altruism, he probably won't be widely touted as the philanthropic billionaire he was, at least not throughout business circles. For, in addition to groundbreaking technology and an uncommon generosity, William Hewlett embodied a management style that still is modeled by companies worldwide. "I guess that's what I'm most proud of; the fact that we really created a way to work with employees ... ," Mr. Hewlett once remembered.

William Hewlett and Dave Packard had some simple philosophies when it came to managing a company. They ignored hierarchies, fostered individual initiative and held a trust in and a bond with their employees. And, this philosophy permeated the company throughout its history. But, they also knew the value of reading and understanding their markets. As the firm's engineering head, Mr. Hewlett grew HP from the rented garage shop that would build "anything to bring in a nickel," including Hewlett's audio oscillator, eight of which Walt Disney bought for the movie "Fantasia," to a nearly $50 billion computer and instrumentations maker. So, HP combined strong technology with an innovative business model to meet a constantly changing industry.

The diversification and openness needed to bring in that nickel reflects what IT managers have grown up always knowing: Adapt or become extinct. Covering "the industry," the argument I often see arise is: Does the vendor drive the technology that corporations rely on, or do the IT managers demand the technology the manufacturers create? In this case, it's a little from column A, mixed equally with a bit from column B. For, if it were the former, you'd have thrown out your mainframe five years ago and scattered desktops across the land. Ever try telling an HP 3000 manager that their system is obsolete? And, if it were the latter, well, I'd be coming to my paperless office in my flying car everyday.

Oh yeah, there's that whole group of people over in Column C, called Corporate Management, who are constantly trying to change how both A and B do business. And, C's role isn't to make your job any easier, as if I have to tell you. Demands from outside are putting increasing pressures on you and your staff, but what remains clear is that the purse string holders in Column C still rely on you to understand the industry and make the right decisions when it comes to spending the techno-bucks.

So, as you're deciding what to spend and why, you need to view and understand your industry. One would be tempted to think that the picture is almost complete, and we're coming around full cycle: from centralized through distributed back to central. But, the picture isn't being completed, in fact it's just starting to change again, with many brushes stroking the ever-evolving portrait know as the E-Center. The E-Center manifests itself, not as a static picture but as an evolving work in progress where individual subjects meld and mix: The Internet and your intranets blending with the data center and traditional networks, swirling together to absorb CRM and EAI, all framed by security and system management issues that you must control. Relax, this doesn't have to be abstract art by any means.

With help from Enterprise Systems, you can get your arms around the expanding canvas of the E-Center, for it transcends all boundaries, from a family-owned cabinet making company crafting their own form of EAI, to the Department of Defense integrating a complex array of applications and databases while managing a nearly infinite distribution network. See what lessons they've learned.

Yes, our industry owes a lot to tenacious people like Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, but the tenacity that existed then exists today as IT managers infinitely push the E-Center, for there are no limits.