Update 3/26/08: Also see 5 tips to prevent IT extinction.
Since the days of punch cards, IT has believed itself to be guardian of precious computing resources against attacks from non-technical barbarians known as "users." This arrogant attitude, born of once-practical necessity in the era of early data centers, reflects inability to adapt to present-day realities. Such attitudes, combined with recent technological and social changes, are pushing IT to share the fate of long-extinct dinosaurs.
While ITs demise won't happen overnight, the trend is clear. Here's why:
IT services have become a commodity. Nick Carr's article, IT Doesn't Matter, described infrastructure computing as a baseline of plain vanilla IT services. In this new world, IT is caretaker rather than strategic business partner or visionary. According to Nick:
[As the availability of standardized IT resources] increases and their cost decreases -- as they become ubiquitous -- they become commodity inputs. From a strategic standpoint, they become invisible; they no longer matter.
Social media empowers users at the expense of IT. Enterprise 2.0 companies marginalize IT by putting powerful tools directly into the hands of non-technical workers, bypassing IT in the process. Dennis Howlett says traction is already there:
The outwardly facing socialprise applications and services I am seeing are not just fundamentally different in approach, they are proving successful.
Software as a service (SaaS) providers are replacing in-house IT infrastructures. Low-cost, external software providers are building and maintaining network, and support, services previously belonging to IT. It's great for the enterprise, but reduces ITs power, influence, and budget. Phil Wainewright, an expert in these matters, wrote:
The entire framework of how businesses consume computing and thus automate their information and communication processes is moving to a services model that runs on the global Web infrastructure.
IT leadership is alienated from senior management. IT loses credibility by speaking in technical jargon and failing to deliver core projects on time and within budget. Any discussion of poor alignment between IT and business raises basic questions about ITs strategic contributions to the enterprise. JP Rangaswami, CIO of British Telecom, told me:
The idea that you could take a critical function within an enterprise and state that it is “not business” is insane….[E]verybody and everything should be about creating new business value on behalf of the customer. [W]e have conned ourselves into believing there are separations to justify organization charts where people build empires, when actually you [should] have a bunch of people taking accountability for different facets of the business.
[W]e have to get to the idea that we’re all in this together, because we are in business together, and we are in the business of delivering value to our customers.
Corporate leadership doesn't understand the implications of IT decisions on business strategy. While IT is partially responsible for its own downfall, senior management is also culpable. On this subject, I wrote:
[M]any senior business executives don’t fully understand how IT processes function, nor do they completely grasp the ramifications that technical decisions can have on non-technical business strategies.
Noted author and project failures guru, Ed Yourdon, told me:
It’s amazing today how many senior executives don’t even read their own email. It’s mind boggling, but these people are going to die off sooner or later.
As the older generation of marketing- and finance-oriented, computer-illiterate senior managers die off and retire, you’ll gradually see a new generation coming in that is fully comfortable with the day-to-day activity and the strategic possibilities of IT, and who will be able to work more closely with CIOs.
Volume purchasing arrangements contribute to IT stagnation. Traditional software companies implicitly conspire with purchasing departments to maintain the status quo. Centralized purchasing policies support volume license deals, but inhibit individual users from adopting innovative new products. Although established software companies love this system, dissatisfied users blame IT, further damaging its credibility. Microsoft's Lawrence Liu commented on a blog post critical of his employer:
Microsoft is the only company in the world that can help organizations effectively integrate the future, present, and past IT capabilities to solve their business problems. Re: all the newfangled social software in the market these days, it’s great to see customers experimenting with this or that, but ultimately, they’ll understand [things are complicated and Microsoft is the answer.]
Microsoft pushes IT, the purchasing department obliges, users become unhappy, and IT moves inexorably towards its own demise, in the form of long-term institutional suicide.
The IT-killing external ecosystem is well funded. Venture capitalists are actively investing in business models that reduce ITs role in the enterprise landscape. Here's one example from Bryan Stolle, a VC:
Another evolution of the SaaS model is simply offering a software-powered service that is delivered as an outsourced business process. The best example of this is ADP: rather than sell you software to do your payroll, we’ll just do it for you.
Market forces are conspiring against the status quo, to the benefit of users and the detriment of traditional IT.
My next post will offer advice for preventing IT extinction. Whether you're a senior executive or a technical IT person, be sure to catch our upcoming episode!
Update 3/24/08: Welcome Digg users! Thanks for coming.