Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I'm as Free as a Beer Now

Chris Anderson has a nice piece here on the economies of abundance, which I think is quite important to what is currently happening in the IT sphere. It seems that everywhere you look in IT these days, things are essentially free. Bandwidth, that's essentially free. Hard drive space, almost free, along with computers, printers, outsourced software developers. It's an information factory that's being constructed.

The problem seems to be that none of this free stuff actually turns into cost savings; I recently experienced two events which just highlighted this point. The first was talking to a fellow who works for a very prominent university in the Boston area; he was installing a new email server for a few departments. The cost? 400 thousand dollars. My jaw hit the sidewalk.

The second was talking with some IT people from a Fortune 50 company who wanted to host a few hundred gigabytes of data for a project. The cost? One million dollars. This time my jaw hit China.

Economic tends to focus on the scarcity of resources, not on the abundance of them, and that's probably why when, say, the cost of hard drive space drops to nothing, the costs stay the same to use it. And I'm going to tell you what you already know, that most IT people are terrified of abundance. As Anderson points out, what a wrong way to go:

Abundance thinking--understanding the implications of "practically free"--is a core competence of our age. It brought us everything from the iPod ("what if storage were so cheap you could put your entire music collection in your pocket?") to Gmail ("why should you ever have to delete an email?"). Most truly disruptive technologies disrupt because they take a scarcity assumption and, thanks to some technology that generates abundances, simply turn it on its head. Just think VOIP (why should phone calls, which use hardly any bandwidth, cost anything?) or how anyone under 25 uses a digital camera (why settle for stills when you'd rather have the video?)

To be a successful green computer enthusiast you will need a set of strategies for implementing abundance into your organization. For starters, try to find examples of things that are free and how they get implemented. For example, why is water and bread free at restaurants, but beer and steaks are not? What should be free in IT?

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