What use is technology without flexibility?

I was reading a post today from mainframe integration vendor GT Software…

…about its support of IBM’s mainframe speciality engines, and I was suddenly hit by the realization that in order to really add value for users, technology almost always has to be accompanied by flexibility. The two need to go hand in hand if returns are to be maximized and business risk minimized.

The specific example discussed relates to an IBM mainframe invention called a speciality engine. For the uninitiated, think of a logical processing box within the overall mainframe environment where processing is much cheaper, with different boxes being aligned to specific activities such as running LINUX operations, data access or Java-type activities. What this basically means is that if part of your workload is doing something that is supported by one of the speciality engine types, then you can choose to run it more cheaply by moving it into this engine, and in fact this can often improve performance too.

This is neat technology, offering the opportunity to reduce costs and improve effectiveness, and various mainframe software suppliers have jumped on the opportunity this offers by moving eligible workloads onto these specaility engines. However, as with any new technology development, things are not quite as simple as they seem. In the IT industry there is a terrible tendency to jump for a new technology and push everything onto it, without appreciating the implications. But, in this example, as pointed out in the referenced post,

There are many use cases where it is much more efficient to NOT shift workload to a specialty engine. Why — because, there is overhead associated with moving workload

This is typical with just about any new technology. It is great in SOME circumstances, but loses out in others. iPODs are great for listening to pop music, sounding little different to CDs and being very much more convenient, but try them on classical symphonies and you will wonder what has happened to the color and magic of the piece. The key is to use new technology for WHAT MAKES SENSE, as opposed to what is possible. There is another angle to this flexibility too. IT vendors often ignore the fact that users are not starting from a clean sheet of paper; they have existing investments and technologies that cannot just be written off. Therefore, it is important to have the flexibility to operate with whatever is in place rather than demand a specific new technology component. This is not a static need, but a dynamic one – it may be that a company might change its approach further down the line, and a rigid, inflexible technology implementation can cause terrible future headaches.

While new technology may promise a lot, it is only when coupled with flexibility over which technologies to use, for what, and when that technology can REALLY deliver its full value.