This month, I will be providing commentary on several information topics of potential interest to financial and technology leaders. As each topic is covered briefly, this column takes the format of "postcards from the ledger." Rationale? More people will take the time to read postcards than long letters. Here goes...

IT Spending Postcard

IT spending is always a hot topic in the press, perhaps due to the fact that technology constitutes approximately 10 percent of the total U.S. gross domestic product and approximately 50 percent of all capital spending. It is true that tech spending has decreased for two consecutive years. Some pundits claim that it is due for a surge. Others tell us to put a fork in the IT revolution – it's done. Even Larry Ellison of Oracle was quoted as saying the technology industry will shrink from here. I'm not sure whom to believe.

I do realize corporations have postponed replacing old technology – sometimes for years and years. I think at some point, some of that technology will indeed need to be replaced. I don't think organizations can go on indefinitely without replacing or enhancing hardware and software. It may take years for us to see who is right. However, I don't think the IT industry is dead.

SEC Postcard

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has a stated mission to protect investors and maintain the integrity of the securities markets. While bank deposits are guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, no such guarantee exists for the stock and bond markets. Investors in recent times have discovered just how frivolous those markets can be. The SEC tries to protect the investor's basic right to obtain certain facts about investments prior to investing by requiring public companies to disclose meaningful financial and other information to the public. The SEC enforces its authority by bringing action against individuals and companies that commit insider trading or accounting fraud, or provide false and misleading statements about securities and the companies that issue them.

It's a bit depressing that the SEC now claims not to have enough resources to pursue all the companies and individuals that violate securities laws. I guess maybe Enron – and Tyco, WorldCom, Martha Stewart, etc. – were just the tip of the iceberg.

Decision-Making Postcard

Has all the decision support technology really improved decision making? Yes! It is extremely difficult to measure whether better decisions are now being made because of all of the investments in data warehouses and business intelligence tools. However, I firmly believe that these investments have paid off handsomely. Business managers can make decisions far more quickly than before because they have a universe of information available to them via easy-to-use access methods. The whole data warehouse movement has made "fact-based decision making" possible. Rather than seat-of-the-pants or back-of-the-napkin analyses, standard operating procedure now includes getting the facts via the data warehouse; and it has become so easy to use that people tend to take it for granted! It has become normal to expect management skills to include the ability to utilize an online analytical processing (OLAP) tool on data warehouse information.

This is all about becoming part of the fabric of the world where information is king. We have tons of it. Let's use it to our advantage. Looks like technology has enabled us to do just that.

Open Systems Postcard

Is operational processing technology really becoming a commodity? Is it something to be expected, like an electric utility? Is there any innovation left, or has it been reduced to plug-and-play modules that can be assembled off the shelf to create new products and capabilities? There has been nothing more important to the advancement of technology than open systems. As an old issue of Wired magazine once proclaimed, "Open = good; closed = bad."

The whole open system movement has been, in and of itself, innovative. However, where is "new" innovation coming from? With the reduction in IT spending/budgets, what has happened to research and development spending in particular? Is anyone still betting on technologies that are "out-there" but have the potential to dramatically change the way we process transactions or handle other operational tasks? I know that we depend on open technologies. I also know that we depend on innovation and being different. I think the new tomorrow will be based on utilizing open technology building blocks to build radically new capabilities that can exist without the major support and maintenance headaches of the past. It sounds like one focus for R&D could be how to better support the utilization of open technologies for proprietary processes that can enable competitive advantage.

Having a great time! Wish you were here!

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