The 3 Branches of Technology Agnosticism
Agnosticism is taking the tech world by storm.
No, we’re not talking about developers suddenly waxing philosophical on faith and religion. We’re talking about Technology Agnosticism: the use of programs, applications, licenses, or other such technological tools that can be accessed on any platform, regardless of the hardware or software environment. Unfortunately, this is a pretty vague description, and Tech Agnosticism is one of those buzz phrases that you see getting thrown around in multiple ways.
Today, we explore the three major groups of Technological Agnosticism, and try to make a little sense out of a very broad category of development strategy.
1. Development Technology Agnosticism
The typical boardroom of today.
One of the major changes in Information Technology we’ve seen in the past decade is the rise of IT Consumerization, AKA Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) policies, in companies around the world. Although we see this kind of behavior in all types of firms, it is particularly popular in small companies, especially those “virtual” companies that lack an office or other physical location. As a result, an application vendor who wants to deal with companies like this needs to maintain compatibility with an ever-growing list of systems.
Currently, there are four major browsers on the market (IE, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari for our purposes), and frequently they interpret web pages in subtly different ways that make life painful for web designers. In addition, the competing Android and iOS application markets are incompatible with each other, but are both widely deployed and need support within any BYOD company. In order to be Developmentally Tech Agnostic, an application must be accessible and functional on all of these platforms, and, if used from the desktop, must have supported versions for multiple operating systems.
2. Data Center Technology Agnosticism
This is an interesting form of Tech Agnosticism, because it refers to a type of personal practice, rather than software. In times gone by, a firm usually adopted a particular vendor for its technological systems. “We’re a Microsoft shop,” or “We run Oracle here,” and the like. When developing an application, it was assumed that a large fraction of the company’s target market would be using that same stack of products. Today, almost every company large enough to budget for specialized software finds itself running products from a variety of vendors in order to satisfy their customers.
On the one hand, this really helps developers. It’s easier than ever to insist on a particular program being used in support of your application. However, the burden of Technology Agnosticism then falls on the IT staff; instead of dedicating a career to being certified on a single vendor’s applications, the empowered IT employee now needs to maintain a baseline of competence in almost all major vendors in their field in addition to having the deep knowledge of the system they are an expert in. Especially for managers and other leaders within a company, the personal and professional costs of being an IT expert are rising very, very quickly.
3. Consumer Technology Agnosticism
Finally, we have to think of the consumer, the person who benefits from this effort. A customer wants to buy your device based on whatever criteria they choose (brand loyalty, color, peer pressure, family politics, etc.) and be confident that it will work with your company’s data systems as well as any comparable product. From a consumer perspective, the goal of Tech Agnosticism is to be connected from anywhere, at any time, from any device, if they so desired.
Consumerization and heavy branding has given the customer greater influence than ever before in deciding winners and losers in the IT marketplace. Companies like IBM and Microsoft built their fortunes by locking in businesses, and then selling to consumers who wanted to be able to take their work home with them. Technological Agnosticism promises to break that cycle by creating products that will allow users to choose the product they most want. A truly Tech Agnostic device makes the customer confident that they will be able to read their email, edit their spreadsheets, listen to their music, and whatever else they want, regardless of the decisions their IT department makes.
The Bottom Line
Technological agnosticism is a useful concept, and is a logical outgrowth of the IT market of the last 20 years. Even so, it makes life more complicated for both developers and IT professionals in order to simplify the lives of the users. Though honestly, that’s the way complexity should flow: simpler experiences for the users, more complexity for the experts. The single-vendor or even single-application expert will still have a place in the IT organizations of tomorrow, but individuals and organizations that want to distinguish themselves are going to have to embrace much wider skillsets.
- Where does your company fit in with this new world?
- How does Tech Agnosticism affect you as a consumer? A professional?
- What do you think is the right balance between specialization and agnosticism?