Clinging to our comfort zones

By admin, September 12, 2010 11:26 am

It's a continuing source of amazement to me that in Information Technology, a discipline that practically reinvents itself every five years or so, there are so many professionals who can't get their heads around the inevitability of grand conceptual changes in the industry. So I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that when ZapThink predicts the demise of enterprise IT (hardly the first to do so) there are still heated reactions which are entirely based on the premise that the way things are is the way they have always been and will always be. As if enterprise IT hasn't collapsed and been reincarnated from time to time already in reaction to various technological advances and shifts in the terrain of business markets.

If you're a regular reader then you already know where I stand on this so I won't rehash the position; you either agree with it or think it excessive. But I will briefly point out that Joe McKendrick's take might represent a halfway point in the dispute from which, if you manage to concede his basic points, you might be able to gaze ahead and see where ZapThink and I are standing. McKendrick at least acknowledges that most technological resources needn't reside within the organization as long as sufficiently technical strategic thinkers continue to do so. At this point, I think it's difficult for he and others deeply immersed in the intricacies of IT architecture to imagine that those thinkers will be anyone other than CIOs, IT architects, and the like. But for me, it's 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. It's interesting to watch this debate shape up at the same time as people less caught up inside the industry debate the need for CIOs and their ilk at all. That debate is not formed, as the defensive IT crowd would have it, by misinformation and dreams of escape, but rather by a pretty dismal record of real-world performance that is being outstripped in some cases already by non-technical managers.

As technology service providers simplify and commodities their offerings, it's not the technologies themselves that will be important, but the applications. And the applications can be understood by most savvy businesspeople. I happen to agree that the business furniture analogy ZapThink uses for IT in their post is a poor one, but I continue to appreciate Nick Carr's comparison with the electric utilities. Once the state of the art advanced to the point where you could by a machine off the shelf, plug it in to the wall, and rely on it to perform as advertised, you no longer sustained a competitive advantage by employing an electrician in-house. You just paid more for the service than it was worth. That is likely to be the fate of enterprises that don't realize their basic technology needs can increasingly be provided more cheaply and effectively by outside providers than their individual in-house IT departments.

Photo source zoutedrop

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