Back in May 2003, Nicholas Carr wrote a piece in the Harvard Business
Review provocatively titled “IT Doesn’t
Matter”. That triggered a firestorm, and legions came to defend the IT
folks whom this article seemed to malign and marginalize. “Of course, IT matters!” became the rallying cry and
card-carrying members of the IT profession responded in droves.
Ten years after the first printing of that article, it is worthwhile to
take a look back at Carr’s hypothesis and see where we are. Was he right?
Contrary to popular assumption and headlines, Carr actually
wrote that “no one would dispute that
information technology has become the backbone of commerce”. He was not trying to undermine the importance of the
sector. But, he did add that, “By now, the core functions of IT—data
storage, data processing, and data transport—have become available and
affordable to all”. He hypothesized that IT is not a strategic advantage
anymore - because scarcity - not ubiquity of a product is the
differentiator, and IT’s core functions had already become ubiquitous. With the proliferation of technology and the
reductions in cost, he surmised that IT had become just another commodity. Most
now believe he got that right.
But the real gem, hidden away in that article,
was this prediction:
More and more,
companies will fulfill their IT requirements simply by purchasing fee-based
“Web services” from third parties—similar to the way they currently buy
electric power or telecommunications services.
Carr did not call it “Cloud Services” or IaaS,
or SaaS, or even PaaS (or any of the daily new variants of the *-as-a-Service),
but he might as well have. In my view, the vision to see that technology
resources will become commoditized in that manner, and that
infrastructure would transition to an off-premises environment - and
organizations would be paying for the functional use of technology being
hosted, supported, upgraded and maintained by others – that, was his unique insight.
The concept had been in discussion before Carr (John McCarthy in the 1960s
discussed “computation may someday be
organized as a public utility”), but Carr may have been one of the first to
articulate it so precisely.
In retrospect, Carr clearly got this outsourcing
revolution right; perhaps even more than he had imagined in 2003.
IT in 2013 and
The changing landscape
In order to
consider what IT will do, we need to understand the major disruptors which we
·The movement of data, applications and a
variety of IT services to third parties, hosted and managed off-premises.
2.Mobile Devices and applications
·The “Consumerization” of technology defined by
the influx of personal devices into the enterprise.
·The coming revolution in mobile apps for the
delivery of enterprise information.
·The shift from devices to services.
·Movement from Bring-your-own-devices (BYOD) to Bring-your-own-application
3. Security and collaboration
·Challenges of managing personal devices in the
·The impact of enterprise data in the ‘Personal
·Real time collaboration and the need for speed
and rapid turnarounds.
·Ubiquitous access on any device from anywhere.
4. Big Data and mining
·The consolidation of data into very large sets.
·The analysis of this data using sophisticated
Business Intelligence (BI) tools.
·Cognitive computing and the movement of analytics
from specialists to consumers of that data.
·Use of ‘Search’ morphing into actionable
Among the changes we are seeing, none is more disruptive than the Cloud.
What was an aberration for most organizations, is now a hard reality with numerous
choices and changes. The movement of technology assets to an off-premise environment, the
challenges of that transition, and then managing this new environment – is a
change comparable in magnitude to the advent of the first LANs.
The on-premises server environments were set up and created with
expensive infrastructure costs. When you added the expenses for servers, racks,
batteries, backup systems, HVAC etc., these server-rooms did not come cheap. And
now, the servers are leaving the building….someone will have to calculate the cost of all these soon to be abandoned spaces.
In this new paradigm, as servers are finding new homes among the clouds,
desktops are likely to follow suit (yes that is next). The major software application
vendors are actively encouraging customers (organization and individuals alike)
to move to a cloud model, or face increased costs.
The manner in which we are paying for these cloud services is a major
financial change too. We don’t buy
hardware and software anymore, we lease it. For the C-Suite, the movement
of expenses from CapEx to OpEx is creating its own challenges. Depreciation of these
assets may be a thing of the past.
So, in this environment, how is IT changing? The skills to manage these
changes, necessarily requires some realignment too.
When I have asked Systems Engineers or Systems Administrators,
who are currently responsible for racks of servers: What will you be doing a
couple of years from now? – a troubling response is more the norm, rather
than the exception. Most think that they will magically follow the servers to
wherever these assets are headed. If only they fully registered how many people
are actually running the datacenters for the Amazons, Google and
Microsoft’s of the world – they would panic! The truth is there aren’t that
many that are needed to run these enormous data repositories.
The era of
multitudes of Systems Engineers and Systems Administrators managing server rooms in every organization, is approaching an
end. The horse carriage
mechanics will need to find something else to do, because a different mode of
transportation is already here
Those in denial also seem to hide behind two
other common contentions:
“Don’t worry, it won’t happen here”.
“My management is worried about security in the cloud”.
The first seems to imply either that we have ‘special’ data which cannot
be moved to the cloud; or, that the costs of moving are prohibitive and would
never work for this organization.
The primary reason for movement to cloud alternatives is in fact cost. It
is far cheaper to place assets in the cloud, than to host them internally, and
the prices are falling! The ‘teaser’ prices which everyone thought would go
through the roof once you have made the initial move to the cloud, are
actually coming down even more.
Those concerned about security in the cloud need to consider two
Are you personally doing any online banking? (Most of us now do)
Do you know
that the CIA has signed a $ 650 million a year contract for their data with
And why is it that you are comfortable with your personal banking data in
the cloud but not the enterprises? Besides the CIA, the FAA has data in the cloud, the FDA has data in
the cloud and so do multitudes of government, nonprofit and for-profit
organizations. Yes, there are some nuances between hybrid, private and public
clouds – nothing is 100% secure (not even on-premises) -but most experts now believe that the movement of data out of the
organizations is inevitable. Even the naysayers acknowledge that it is a matter of time.
We are all getting vested in cloud services, personally and
professionally. Gartner, in its 2014 predictions, now rates the individual’s Private
Cloud as a new disruptive technology trend. The Personal Consumerizationof the Cloud is here.
In June 2013, IDC forecast that over the next three years, 14 million
Cloud related jobs will be created globally (http://tinyurl.com/6ubr53g).
If you are an IT person and looking for a sustainable and in-demand
job, or if you are a current systems engineer, you should pay close attention. Cloud
certifications and skills will be in great demand.
Mobile Devices and applications
As the Consumerization of IT takes hold, we must prepare for the tsunami
of personal devices coming to invade our enterprises. People are doing more
enterprise work on personal devices. Gartner estimates that for the first time,
in 2013, more mobile device will be sold
than desktops in the USA. A critical tipping point has been reached.
In this environment, who owns the devices, who manages it, who allows it
access and even who has the authority to remove data from it – are all issues
which IT will have to work through.
Several acronyms are the language of this new discussion. BYOD
(Bring-your-own-device) is one of the more popular among them. Should the
enterprise provide devices on which staff do their organizational work, or should staff
bring their own?
A few years ago, we faced the same issue with phones. Initially, phones
were handed out by the organization to those that needed them for work. Soon,
phones became cheaper, more powerful and started coming in multitudes of
flavors and operating systems. Users began demanding that they be allowed to
use their “weapon of their choice”. Enterprises succumbed. And thus was born
BYOP (bring your own phone). Today, using your own phone for email etc. is far
more common than using enterprise supplied phones.
The same thing is happening with other devices. In fact, some among us have
talked about the advent of a ‘cafeteria’ plan for technology, where the staff
would be given a stipend to buy the technology of their choice on which to do
their work. I can hear the question in your minds “Who will fix these hundreds if not thousands of devices, when something goes wrong with
The simple answer is: The
manufacturer of that device will fix it. In fact, none of these devices can
be repaired by the IT staff even today. Or, at least they shouldn’t be. Do you
want to void the warranty on an iPad by opening it, trying to “fix” it? Open an
iPhone? Someone’s Smartwatch next? No, IT will not do this. In fact as BYOD
takes hold, there will be less to fix, not more.
A whole new class of devices under the label of Internet of Things (IoT)
is also headed our way. Mobile devices like smartphones and iPads are not the
only things we will have to worry about (for more information on IoT read my
blog at: http://tinyurl.com/lp5egb4)
This leads to the other change in IT skill sets. As less Brake-Fix (the colloquial term used in some IT
departments to indicate the work done to fix technology) is required - going forward, IT departments will be doing less of
this kind of support.
The Help Desk will look different when there is less to fix. Help Desk staff should pay heed.
Gartner also predicts that an average enterprise will be managing a
median of 25 mobile applications. A new breed of mobile application developers
and vendors is going to find new customers.
Gartner also alerts us to a BYOA (bring-your-own-application) era. In
this environment, users will be allowed to use the application of their choice,
an extension of being able to use the device of their choice. For example, can
a user use any email client, as long as they can access the enterprise email
system? Why not? And yes, there are some things around security which will need
to be worked out here.
But there are already big changes in this area. These will require a
recalibration of IT skills and even policies.
Security and Collaboration
Being able to secure data, regardless of where it resides and where it
is being requested from, is a monumental challenge for the transformative IT.
Into this mix comes a new vocabulary driven by MDM (mobile device
management), VDI (virtual desktops), VDA (Virtual desktop applications) and a
security fabric which allows control and management of disparate end points.
The need for rapid turnarounds now requires the use of new tools for the
new real-time collaboration environments. For the users, this is a big change.
The skill sets to be able to assist in such transformations and move enterprises
away from the traditional flat-file architectures to cloud options, will be in
great demand. This will not be easy.
IT staff with security certifications will also be in demand. Security
will become an even more important requirement at most levels of the new IT
hierarchy. The enterprise data will have to be secured in a myriad of new
places, some of which the IT department will not control, at least not in the way
we always have.
Big Data and mining
Nothing gets attention these days like Big Data and Business Intelligence
(BI). These are the new buzzwords and there are big dollars at stake.
cheap storage options now available, petabytes of data are now stored in
servers. What does all this data mean? What can we do with it? And, does
it provide answers to make the enterprise a better, more efficient, productive and competitive
That is the world of Big Data. Thus far, it has been the realm of
‘specialists’ and data miners using complex BI tools to extract the nectar of
the data. BI tools are expensive and require a lot of expertise.
But this too is changing. ‘Cognitive computing’, says Gartner, is when
ordinary users will be able to use common ways to be able to get access to
analytics and thus make the outcomes from that data far more actionable. In
fact, the time when you should be able to use common search methodologies to mine
complex data – is also not far away.
In many ways this question of how we make use of data to become more
efficient and productive, is the new frontier. It is the place where technology
changes its stripes.
Technology must help in advancing the mission and
profitability of the organization and move from being a cost center to becoming
a full partner in the revenues and
solutions aspects of the business.
So, what will IT
There are several areas in which this
transformed IT will need to participate.
a)Increasingly, IT will need to be Strategists; to become the bridge
between what is technically possible and what needs to be solved. They will
need to become the interlocutors when users are stymied by “How do we ask for something we don’t know
b)IT will need to be able to extract and analyze business processes, and identify
those that could benefit from technology solutions. This is more of a systems analyst and business
analyst role and such certifications will likely remain in high demand.
c)IT will be a full partner in the revenue
producing elements of the business. IT as a cost center is becoming less
important. The cost elements which are generally infrastructural, will be
transitioning to third parties. This in turn will allow IT to focus on revenue
producing projects and similar initiatives of the enterprise. IT budgets may also start
dissipating into departmental and project budgets where such initiatives are traditionally 'owned'.
d)Big Data and data mining will make IT and the Marketing functions draw
ever closer. Currently, marketing is the primary consumer of Big Data. Already,
in some organizations the largest part of a technology budget is also targeted to
the needs of the marketing department. New titles like CMIO (Chief Marketing
Information Officer) are emerging.
e)Program management to deliver solutions on time
and on budget, are also gaining more traction. Foundational certifications like
Project Management will be more in demand. IT staff, who have been perennially
blamed for over budget and delayed projects, will have to deliver on time and
on budget, like any other unit in an enterprise.
f)Mobility solutions and applications will
proliferate. Delivery of content is changing to a different form factor and mobile
will dominate. Desktop and server management, on the other hand, will decline.
g)Security concerns arising from personal devices and even the
Internet-of-Things (IeT) will become more prevalent. Management of mobile
applications and security of data on all
things connected to the internet - will become a core IT function.
h)Analytics will get embedded into the user GUI.
Actionable intelligence driven by easy to use interfaces will become a
differentiator, and IT will be under pressure to deliver such solutions.
i)BYOD (Bring your own device) will get a lot of
traction and the active “brake-fix” support of user devices, will fade as the
consumerization of computing accelerates, and ownership transfers from
organizations to users. Budgets will be impacted by this change.
One thing is clear. IT stands at a transformational
cross roads. A major change in the manner in which we use technology is underway.
In many ways, this is the maturation of the promise of the internet.
Unless IT is able to reinvent itself, the future
will be a difficult one. In my conversations, I am finding that the same
resistance to change which inflicts some of the user community - is now
afflicting the IT folks too. Since we are the original change agents, we really
have no excuse. We should be good at pivoting and accepting and embracing
change, shouldn’t we?
IT now needs more folks who have the technology knowledge but also have
a strong suit of business management skill sets, and the ability to bring the
two elements together.