George F. Colony: On the Voyage to Business Technology
George F. Colony is founder and CEO of the independent technology and market research company Forrester Research. At the end of 2006, he has published „My View: IT to BT“ in which he announced the necessary change from Information Technology (IT) to Business Technology (BT). The Business Technology magazine had the opportunity to talk with George Colony about the progress of this change and the change in the self-understanding of IT and the new challenges for business and IT executives.
Mr. Colony about two years ago you argued that Information Technology would become Business Technology. How do you see the situation today?
George F. Colony: I would say that as far as changing the language it will take a long time for that to happen. Some Forrester clients – not many but several – have actually changed the term they use from IT to BT. So we see around the edges some movement here. And it is very interesting because it has framed very well the voyage of IT. The voyage of technologists. Because they see themselves as moving from the old world of IT to the new world of BT. And they are very curious to find out together with Forrester „How do we do that?“ How is that voyage navigated? What do we have to do to become BT?
So I would say that very few companies have actually arrived at BT. But many have departed on the voyage. And that is very encouraging. I was on a plane going to Las Vegas. I always felt that Forrester’s role in the world was to help technologists in large companies to rise up higher. That they get promoted, that they are respected, that they have an impact on the future of their companies. And while on that plane I thought about what would really help them do that? And I realized by changing the words it would actually change the way they were perceived within their companies. Information simply is a lower level value than business. So it was a signal from the technologists „Hey, we are now in the business of business!“ and we are not in the business of simply keeping track of the numbers. And it makes perfect sense because ten years ago it was about closing the books, accounting and how many products you sold yesterday. But today you can not develop a product or deliver a product, service a customer or find a new customer without technology.
When CEOs challenge me I say: „Fine, go back to your company and unplug wires and you will see whether you can do business or not without those wires plugged in.“ If you are Goldman Sachs you are losing a hundred million dollars an hour without those wires plugged in. A typical company is losing tenth of millions an hour. And of course if you unplug that big wire to your website your customers can no longer contact you.
British Airways said at the Forrester IT-Forum, that they service 35 million customers a month. So suddenly you wouldn’t be able to touch them. So to me it is very clear, it is time for the change in the words – from information to business. And that’s a very important signal from the technologists that we are now different people. We are in a different business. We are not here simply to count, we are here to drive the business. So I think it is a great voyage to be on. I am encouraged by how much change happened during the last two years. I am also encouraged that your magazine has the same title.