Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Tough to be in IT

Look at the landscape if you are in IT today - vendors like PeopleSoft want to make it easier to use their applications, product managers are supposed to know their target users, goals and behaviors - so much so that the need for IT should be minimal. Your management is looking at the cost and feels that outsourcing of "non-strategic" tasks is the best strategy - except that 80% of the people in your company IT fall into that bucket. Look at your user community - they are never happy with the performance, usability, scalabilty of any thing you implement, especially a new application.

Painted this way, it really looks like the perfect storm. So is it the end of IT (as Nick Carr so infamously put it) ?

My answer - absolutely not! There is a LONG way to go as a hi-tech culture before we can even write IT off. My experiences with IT folks in companies show some revealing characteristics:

a. Vendors are light years behind providing the "perfect" solution

Yes - all the plans talk about making IT obsolete, putting the power in the hands of the business users ( like allowing end users to execute DML statements on the fly in production - ya you heard me right!) still leaves a lot to be desired. And why is that ? The key reason I see is due to the multiple points of failure in any complex application - there are just too many variables that the vendors cant design/test/foresee in a controlled lab environment. For eg. the exact mix of the platform, database, hardware, software version, skillset of IT, skillset of user will always yeild different permutations on how the software eventually ends up behaving. And who can help fix this - IT.

b. IT outsourcing

This is a hotly debated topic. While it is true that IT infrastructure has elements that can be outsourced, the competitive edge that a company derives by keeping resources onsite, well paid and motivated cannot be easily duplicated. Business Agility. What wins in the market is the ability to experiment, react quickly to feedback and experiment again. Outsource your IT and you are stuck with "standards" - the standards that once gave you a competitive edge are now becoming strait jackets - driven by vendors that serve only one agenda - theirs.

c. Business community - IT's customers

I was recently in a conversation where the business users were completely livid due to a migration to a newer system, touting the strengths of the older one, even though the newer system addressed 80% of the key pain points. Why is that ? Because change is hard. IT folks need to spend a lot of time with the end user community in recuriting leaders, educating them about the change well in advance and getting buy-in. Lets face - NO software will solve problems, people do. Its important not to ignore this fact and put in change management in your project plan.

So is IT needed. As far as I can see - absolutely! Will it be needed in 10 years ? perhaps. But that is another article all by itself...

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