Sun's new strategist talks of tools, and fools

Technology is just a tool and "a fool with a tool is still a fool", according to Larry Singer, the newly appointed senior vice president of global market strategies at Sun Microsystems.

Declaring that innovation does matter Singer, during a visit to Australia last week, said technology itself won't provide competitive advantage: it depends on how you use it.

"Technology is like electricity, because it is a basic cost to the business, but unlike electricity there are many ways in which you can use technology," he said.

Before joining Sun, Singer was the CIO of the state of Georgia in the US, a position he described as difficult because there was no chief operating officer (COO) to partner with.

"For example, I was under pressure to deliver mobile networks which require a fundamental change to business processes," Singer said, adding that such challenges require the support of the CEO and CFO.

"The complexity of IT has become so extreme that what used to be spent on capital is being spent on human capital.

"At Georgia we outsourced core business process applications and used in-house skills for infrastructure. One of our goals was to implement an interoperability architecture, so we started with Web services early. This involved buying lots of pieces of infrastructure."

According to Singer, when he started as CIO, Georgia - with 140,000 employees across state - was spending $US1.2 billion a year on technology, a figure that was down to $800 million when he departed.

Commenting on his new role at Sun, Singer said there is a moral objective for vendors to rationalise IT infrastructure.

"If you look at the cost of technology, most of it comes from people," he said. "As the cost of technology has been decreasing, the cost of services has been steady.

"IBM’s business model is moving from technology to services; however, we see the value of the services market falling as technology becomes easier to manage."

Singer cited the difference in cost between managing thin clients and desktops as an example of how technology can reduce support costs.

"On average there is one [sysadmin] per 180 workers in a desktop environment," he said. "With thin clients this can be reduced to one [sysadmin] per 2000 workers."

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