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Moving it around

by Douglas E. Welch

April 14, 2000

© 2000, Douglas E. Welch

Life as a computer careerist is made more difficult everyday by the plethora of new technologies that enter the market. Your career often depends on the ability to cull the wheat from the chaff, the VHS from the Betamax. Too often, though, you don't have enough information about a new technology to make a clear decision. You often have to fly blind and hope that today's innovation will become tomorrow's standard.

Your technology choices don't have to be fraught with such fear, though. What I have discovered over the years is this: the technology you choose matters less than the ability to move information from one system to another. As long as you insure that you are not driving your data into a dead-end, you will be able to make the best of emerging technologies without getting trapped.

The Import/Export Business

You see hundreds of new technology products announced every year. Companies use all sorts of hyperbole to convince you that their solution is the best without knowing anything about you or your company's needs. As a technology worker you have probably learned to see through the advertising copy, but sometimes you need a metric that allows you to make a quick evaluation of new technology and whether it might help your people more productive.

With any product, one of the first features I test is its ability to import and export existing company data. Nothing disturbs me more than a product that becomes a black hole for your information. Everyone, regardless of what business they are in, needs the ability to move their data around. Sometimes companies create a black hole by accident. Perhaps other features were more important to the company. This is a bad sign, though, because it shows the company is lacking manpower or management to produce a fully functional product. Other companies are merely arrogant. They can't believe that you would ever want to move your data to any other technology or product. Regardless of the reason, you end up with a veritable "roach motel" technology where your data goes in but never comes out.

One very common example of this is software used to access America Online. While it presents a nice pretty face to the user, trying to export mail or entries from the address book is problematical at best. Users tend to continue using America Online long after they have outgrown it because they have no easy way to move their data to a new system. The longer they use the software the more data gets trapped.

So, a quick bit of testing can give you an important indication of the usefulness of the software. For example, can the company standard contact manager share data with the Palm Pilots that management wants to buy all the executives? Can users access their email on the road without having to use specialized software? Can you get your information out of a new database system as easily as you got it in? How easily can you move from one technology to another and what information might you lose along the way?

The oncoming train

The reason that importing and exporting data is so important has to do with the ever-increasing speed of technological innovation. We want to make the best choices from these new technologies, but you often have very little on which to make your decision. You are often required to make gut level decisions, but not know the success of those decisions until weeks or months later. Technologies die for many reasons other than flaws in the technology. Companies get bought and sold. Some go bankrupt. Some can't withstand the Microsoft juggernaut. These reasons are ephemeral and ever changing. There is no way you can know that some multi-millionaire is going to sell the company on a whim because they need a new sailboat. This is why you have to protect yourself.

The ability to move from one technology to another, quickly, is your biggest weapon against the vagaries of the technology industry. If you are suddenly faced with a technology that is disappearing you need the ability to quickly move your data from the failing technology to the next best choice. While management may complain about lost money spent on a dead technology, I can assure you they will be even more upset by the inability to access the information they need.

While we would all like to have one technology that meets all of our needs for years to come the reality is much different. Even established technologies have a finite life span and we always need to be on the look out for next new thing. Your job is to choose wisely so that neither you data, nor your career ends up in a black hole of technology.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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