Jonathan Beyman is chief of operations and technology at Lehman Brothers, as well as an executive vice president. In addition, Beyman has served as the firm's CIO since 2000.
Question: With so many new technologies, how do you weigh the decision between being an early adopter, which may provide a competitive advantage, against waiting for someone else to work out the bugs?
I would summarize most business decisions, including the decision to adopt a technology - or, more specifically, when in its life cycle to adopt it - as boiling down to an understanding of "the give and the get." While that sounds so simple, it's often clouded by the hype that surrounds new technology.
As you correctly suggest, there often are more problems and less functionality with early versions of technology products - the "give." Implementations can be difficult and it's possible the technology could evolve in such a way that makes the solution you adopted suboptimal, or worse, dead-ended. Add to that the fact that some innovative products come from small players, in which case the risks of adopting a technology include relying on vendors that could disappear and leave you without support.
On the other hand, there are many cases when you are in search of a solution and a new technology or product fills some large part of the bill and provides substantial benefit - the "get." Implementing it may not be smooth, and the progression from start to finish is rarely a straight line; the "get" generally implies the need for some "give."
The adoption of Linux around Wall Street is a good example. The problem: a proprietary Unix solution running on expensive hardware in a time of significant cost pressure. The "give": moving applications, including mission-critical applications, off of a well-supported operating system with a well-developed ecosystem of management tools and independent software vendor solutions to an open-source platform that had been around for 10 years without taking hold, was supported by a few relatively small providers and lacked the same ecosystem. The "get": the ability to run these same apps on low-cost hardware with significant price/performance advantages that could save many millions of dollars.
Guess what many of us did?