The Death of IT
A call to action
From the beginning of (business) time, tools were implemented to achieve increasing levels of efficiency. From the abacus to the typewriter, the calculator to modern day computer systems, tools have evolved to improve business efficiency. Information Technology departments were born out of the necessity to maintain the growing complexity of integrated business automation tools. These tools required a high level of expertise to implement and maintain. In the near future, the ‘anything as a service’ model will be the death of today’s IT practice. Requiring no specialized skills to implement or maintain, cloud-based applications will replace the complexity of yesterday’s systems.
This idea is not novel. Back in 2003, Nicholas Carr wrote “IT Doesn’t Matter”, published in the Harvard Business Review. Carr argued that as the availability of technologies increase and costs decrease, they become commodity and lose any competitive differentiation. They no longer matter, he says. So, if this same concept has been described before, why bring it up now? The relevance of Carr’s statements some 13 years later demands a call to action by IT and business managers. The commoditization of technology is at hand.
In the not too distant future, business will come full circle. Cloud-based utilities and ‘as a service’ offerings will transform businesses to a model where every business unit selects and maintains its own technology. These technologies will natively integrate to ensure business workflow consistency. New generations of businesspeople, raised in a digital world, are inundating the market with tech savvy expertise in various business practices. New businesses are cropping up daily where the entire business toolset is born in the cloud. These organizations begin with flexible and scalable technologies and are not tethered to traditional datacenter models with limited capabilities. The new generation of tech savvy business user does not require a dedicated IT staff to spend months or years delivering new toolsets within the constraints of existing infrastructure. Fail often, fail fast initiatives require a decoupling from traditional systems. Businesses are demanding a new level of agility to reduce the risk of being “Uberized”. Many organizations are seeing an uptick in shadow IT initiatives that are putting the IT department into facilities mode, where they are expected to get out of the way and just keep the lights on. Cross-functional teams are being developed to ensure new and existing business initiatives are conducted in iterative cycles to innovate effectively. All of these changes will enable the business to manage technology in a dramatically different way.
Every business requires technology to automate processes. Business owners require integrated teams and tools to ensure visibility into all aspects of the organization. Understanding trends within the business and without provides competitive advantage. How can business owners balance stability and flexibility while maintaining visibility? In order to address these questions, Gartner recommends a bi-modal IT department. However, bi-modal is simply a transitional IT state to help traditional IT departments get out of the way of the business. The business needs innovation and agility now! Shadow IT initiatives and frustrated business users will continue to exist under this model. The Gartner approach leaves room for organizations to simply bolt-on an innovation team without the coordination required between traditional IT operations (mode 1) and innovation (mode 2). Many detractors from the Gartner model suggest it is merely a new skin on an old model and that most organizations have been using (or think they are) a similar model for years. Simon Wardley effectively describes some of the pitfalls of the bi-modal movement in his blog (http://blog.gardeviance.org/2014/11/bimodal-it-is-long-hand-for-snafu.html). If we assume that Gartner has positive intentions (I’m sure they do), and their ultimate motive is to bridge the gap between waterfall and agile methodologies, we can suggest using the bi-modal movement as a catalyst for change without using it as a prescriptive model for moving a complacent organization into a more competitive position in the market. As more traditional organizations implement and perfect innovation practices, in an effort to avoid being out-competed by new digital start-ups, the CIO and IT teams can continue to be relevant within business. However, the migration toward agile, innovative practices and the onset of everything as a service is a prescriptive model for the death of IT.
Technology is the primary means for simplification and automation of various business functions in order to gain business efficiencies. Many will suggest that they have teams that code new applications and workflows, that this practice is their primary competitive advantage and will never go away. Some suggest that internal IT departments will always be required in order to manage security and network infrastructure, regardless of the location of resources. Others suggest that technology teams will always exist to drive technological innovation. I would argue that existing teams that code new applications or workflows are simply using existing technologies to create these competitive advantages. These existing technologies are provided by software manufacturing organizations as consumable products, not dissimilar from the typewriter. As more efficient coding applications are developed using WSIWYG interfaces, tech savvy business users from every department will leverage those tools to create competitive advantage, not traditional IT. Salesforce, for example, is used by many organizations in this manner today. Simple configuration changes can be leveraged to effect major competitive differentiation between one implementation and the next. In most cases, the person responsible for creating these new workflows within Salesforce are not traditional IT but are tech savvy resources from HR, marketing, and/or finance. I would further argue that the management of network and security infrastructure will change drastically in the near future. The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly and requirements for billions of connected devices will drastically change how we manage networking and security. Virtualized network technologies are already available to remove much of the complexity of traditional networking. In order to simplify the connectivity of billions of devices, a large, flat network (IPv6) will be required. In conjunction, ‘anything as a service’ and the IoT will drive the removal of traditional (hard outer shell) security practices. Security at every end-point will be required to ensure protection of widely distributed systems and devices. Work from home, mobility and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) initiatives are already implementing technologies to address this, specifically mobile device management (MDM) solutions and application whitelisting. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is in the process of implementing a continuous diagnostics and mitigation (CDM) initiative, https://www.dhs.gov/cdm, which integrates new sensors and security at the end network nodes and devices in order to address security in this manner. Finally, those who believe that technology (in its current form) will continue to exist in order to innovate or differentiate will, in my opinion, lag behind their peers due to inefficiencies. These will play out as cost, time to market and flexibility inefficiencies.
Many technology (think hardware and software) companies are becoming Big Data companies. They are mining information from their user base to enhance their product offerings and their core focus is less on existing products and more on data analytics that will allow them to provide the technologies and services of the future in whatever form they take. Manufacturers who are not focused on data analytics are likely to watch their product line diminish in value and give way to more flexible, integrated products. In a like manner, many traditional businesses are becoming technology companies. Think Amazon, Uber, AirBnB, Netflix, Crowdfunding or any other organization that leverages technology to remove the barriers of traditional brick and mortar or ‘big iron’ data centers. The real competitive advantage of any organization is its data and how that data is used to move assets from lower value uses to higher value uses.
In the not too distant future, every business user will be a technologist and every technologist a business user. Network solution providers will deliver simple, secure appliances that create a large flat network allowing unfettered access to the internet of things. Security will be an inherent part of every device, appliance and system. Innovation will be delivered at the speed of business through integrated Software as a Service (SaaS) tools. So, if all businesses are becoming technology companies and none of them need IT teams, what is the future of the information technology industry?
As mentioned above, data (and how it is used) is the real value of the organization. Information technology teams will be required to focus less on the infrastructure to support data innovation and more on the data itself. The Chief Information Officer will continue to exist, however this role will require a laser focus on information and the business value derived from its use. Some organizations are transitioning to Chief Innovation Officer or Chief Data Officer titles to address this. Existing IT teams will have to become business savvy enough to fold in seamlessly with their tech savvy business peers just to stay employed. Truly successful IT personnel will know the mind of the business and its leaders. They will align themselves with the goals of the business. Organizations that cannot make this transition will slowly disappear, giving way to the new regime. Organizations that can make the transition will find increasing success in a digital economy. For those of us in IT positions today, the increasing rate of technology adoption (https://hbr.org/2013/11/the-pace-of-technology-adoption-is-speeding-up) will likely mean we have to adapt to survive. The technologies driving this change will not wait for us to catch up. In the short term, we can either facilitate these changes by leading the innovation charge or we can fight it tooth and nail. If we lead the charge, we will find our place in the new IT order. If we fight it, we can still make fifteen dollars an hour flipping burgers.
One way or the other, the business world and the technologies driving business growth are changing rapidly. We (IT) can proactively begin the process of aligning with the business, becoming change agents in our existing roles, adopt a forward-looking mindsets and champion this transition. Continue to execute well on existing platforms while transforming the culture of IT within our organizations. We must understand how the data within our organizations can be utilized to make valuable business growth decisions. Adopt a data (not infrastructure) mindset. Look to the organizations and individuals that are doing this well today and align yourself with thought leaders in this area. Lock in your relevance to the business. Change is the only constant. Adapt. Survive.