The changing face of IT: Five trends to watch

IT is changing as fast as an profession on the planet and IT pros need to keep up with the trends. Here are five big developments to keep your eye on.
Written by Jason Hiner, Editor in Chief

At the TechRepublic Live 2010 event earlier this month, I gave a presentation called "The Changing Face of IT" in which I outlined five key trends that are changing the way IT is delivered, administered, and staffed. Here's a summary of that presentation.

1. The consumerization of IT

We have been discussing the consumerization of IT on TechRepublic since 2007 when The Wall Street Journal published tips to help business professionals circumvent their IT departments. Back then, it was primarily an annoyance involving a few power users who were bringing their own Palm Treos into the enterprise and using a some unauthorized Web tools to get their work done.

Since then, consumerization has developed into a full-blown trend that nearly every organization -- except for the ones with the tightest security or the most centralized IT departments -- have to deal with. Workers are bringing their own laptops and smartphones into the office and connecting them to corporate systems. More people than ever are telecommuting or working from home for a day or two a week. And, the number of Web-based tools has increased dramatically, including many that have become favorites of business users, such as Evernote, Dropbox, and Google Docs.

This puts the onus on IT to craft pragmatic and effective computing policies and to help users understand which tools are safe to use and for which kinds of activities.

2. The borderless network

The old security model was for IT to build a big moat around the corporate network and only let trusted, authorized employees come across the well-guarded drawbridge and into the proverbial castle. However, that model has broken down as companies have had to make more and more exceptions -- for example, VPN users working from home, smartphone users on the go, and extranet users via company partnerships.

As a result, today's IT security model is more about risk management than network protection. Companies have to identify their most important data and then make sure it's protected no matter who's accessing it and from wherever and whatever device they're accessing it from.

3. The cloudy data center

One of the most expensive and cumbersome aspects of the company headquarters -- and even some large regional offices -- can be the data center. It can make it difficult to reconfigure buildings because you always have to worry about the data center ramifications, which can be extremely costly and limiting.

That's why some companies are looking to break the cycle and either consolidate and minimize their own internal data centers or outsource the data centers themselves. Some are doing it by going with more cloud computing applications like Salesforce.com. Some of renting server capacity from vendors such as Amazon AWS and Rackspace. Others are going the more traditional route and simply renting data center space from third party data centers that have already solved problems like power, cooling, and telecom redundancy.

Vendors such as EMC and Microsoft see this happening and they want to be part of the mix as well, so they are encouraging companies to virtualize all of their servers and create a "private cloud" that has the flexibility of a cloud solution and the privacy and security of a homegrown server solution.

4. The state of outsourcing

Every time you mention the word "outsourcing" among IT professionals (especially in the U.S.) there's a predictable knee-jerk reaction. In most cases, they are associating outsourcing with "off-shoring," the practice of moving entry-level help desk and programming jobs to foreign countries (usually in Southeast Asia) where the labor costs are much cheaper.

However, outsourcing is a much larger trend, and off-shoring is just one part of it. Outsourcing is thriving in many different forms, and it's reasonable to expect that it will accelerate. Big companies such as IBM, HP, and Verizon Business are offering to take over many of the maintenance functions for IT departments. In many cases, they'll even keep IT pros on staff and on-premises but those IT pros will now get their paycheck from the vendor. The big benefit here is 24/7 monitoring since these large vendors have engineers in their sophisticated NOCs at all times, plus they have specialists who can solve more difficult problems when the need arises.

When companies move their maintenance portions of the IT department to outsourcers, that leaves business analysts and project managers as the primary job roles left for the internal IT department.

5. The mobilization paradigm

The computer revolution has put a PC on virtually every desk in the business world and in lots of other places where people work, from the sales counter to the warehouse to the patient exam room. While PCs still make sense on the desks of knowledge workers, for all of these other workers who regularly move around as part of their daily job, the stationary PC often changes the natural flow of their routine because they have to stop at a system to enter data or complete a task. That's about to change.

Mobile computers in the form of smartphones and touchscreen tablets (like the iPad) have taken a big leap forward in the past four years. They are instant-on, easy to learn because of the touchscreen, and they have a whole new ecosystem of applications designed for the touch experience. In the years ahead, we're going to see more and more development done on these mobile platforms, which will untether workers from their stationary PCs and allow them to interact with people and products in much more natural ways.

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