Outsourcing and cloud-based IT: Has the great offloading begun?

'At some point you won't think of [IT managers and professionals] as an IT department at all'
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

I got some interesting reactions to my most recent post on ZapThink's 2020 vision, which included warnings about the potential "collapse of enterprise IT."

By 2020, IT departments will be about governance, not hands-on technology

Jason Bloomberg, author of the 2020 vision statement, provided some additional clarifications, noting that he was not recommending outsourcing IT, but issuing a warning about such practices gone too far: "Rather, many enterprises will be reaching a 'crisis point' as they seek to outsource IT, and if they don't understand the inherent risks involved, then they will suffer the negative consequences that Michael Poulin and others fear," he says.

The ZapThink 2020 vision was written to pull together multiple trends and delineates the interrelationships among them. Ultimately, the IT department of 2020 will not be about hands-on technology, but about governance, Jason explains. "One of the most closely related trends is the increased formality and dependence on governance, as organizations pull together the business side of governance (GRC, or governance, risk, and compliance), with the technology side of governance (IT governance, and to an increasing extent, SOA governance). Over time, CIOs become CGOs (Chief Governance Officers), as their focus shifts away from technology."

"At some point you won't think of them as an IT department at all," he says.

While Jason and ZapThink foresee IT executives handling less technology; ironically, another observer sees non-technical executives and managers getting more involved in technology. Prashanth Rai of the CIO Weblog picked up on my observation that most technological resources needn't reside within the organization as long as sufficiently technical strategic thinkers continue to do so.

However, Prashanth then goes on to say that the "technical strategic thinkers" that are emerging won't necessarily by CIOs or IT managers. "A very short jump to believing that the IT strategy for most organizations will become a part of the purview of the CEO or COO. Those offices have already evolved markedly in their appreciation for the capabilities of transformative and competitive uses of technology; indeed, in many cases, they have outstripped the ranks of IT architects and CIOs who have been trained by years of limitations and industry best practices to be cautious and reactive."

Jason also says any collapse of enterprise IT departments won't entirely be due to outsourcing -- cloud computing will drive much of it as well. "Outsourcing is a part of the story, but so is cloud computing," he says. "We also see a shift in the approach to enterprise architecture that better abstracts the locations of IT resources."

Jason delineates between outsourcing and cloud as separate categories, but with plenty of overlap. "Many Cloud initiatives outsource certain aspects of their infrastructure to a cloud provider, but not necessarily, private clouds being the primary exception. And outsourcing in general may involve various services that have nothing to do with cloud computing."

Also, reader prdmarican provided a great comment to my recent post titled "Is IT losing its relevance?" Here is what he said to that point -- and perhaps also a good counter-argument to the points made in the above post as well:

"I have a great idea... maybe this next Friday, all of us irrelevant IT workers should just shut all of our equipment off and take a three day weekend... and see how relevant we all seem on Monday when none of us are there...

"Outsourcing IT doesn't make anything less relevant, it only shifts the work to another location - either to a company that will cost you lots more, or one that employs folks in some far away land that make $2 a day in wages. And while some things may make sense to move to the "cloud", nobody wants the wait or the expense of having to call an outsider in for routine IT work.

"And the same folks that think that 'IT' is standing in the way of progress (please - what other group of folks love technology and gadgets more than us?) are the same ones who cry foul whenever some new virus or Trojan takes over their office - yeah, the one's that they refused to be under the IT standards, because they know more than the IT department."

"I've been in this business over 30 years now. Outsourcing may solve some problems, but it brings with it just as many if not more."

"Choose wisely."

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