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Opinion: The end of IT as we know it

Anyone who was listening to a session titled “The End of the IT Department” at October’s Gartner Symposium might have concluded that Gartner finally bit the bullet and admitted that IT no longer matters.

According to Neil MacDonald, a Gartner vice president who pieced together the research cited in the session, the IT organization will shrink about 85 percent over the next decade. Combine that with analysts’ predictions that IT spending is growing at only a fraction of Gartner’s 25-year running average, and it’s easy to conclude that IT is disappearing, and that you should visit a career counselor.

Maybe you regret that IT hasn’t delivered projects on time or met budgets. Maybe your company thinks that you are the problem.

Guess what? Even if IT’s performance were stellar, fate wouldn’t be any different. The real story is that solutions such as business process management, business intelligence and reporting, and performance management are growing more powerful and easier to use. Once those tools are implemented, the business people who use them become more self-reliant. Back that up with advances in service-oriented architecture, and that routine customer account query may no longer require a DBA intimately familiar with CICS transactions if you wrapper it as a service, or assemble it as part of a larger one.

Then, consider advances in data center automation, reducing the need for admins to perform routine infrastructure monitoring. Finally, add virtualization, where chunks of computing power, network bandwidth, and storage can be commandeered as if they resided on one machine at a single location, and it soon becomes apparent that what we have on our hands is a new Industrial Revolution.

According to MacDonald, automation is likely to claim about 80 to 90 percent of IT operations jobs, 40 to 50 percent of help desk and support staff, and roughly half of all application development and maintenance. Much of what’s left would be outsourced. At the other end of the spectrum, only about 10 percent of strategy and architecture tasks are likely to be automated.

Overall, this should boost IT productivity by a factor of 10, MacDonald concludes. We’ve all heard about the promises of automation, along with the vast economies of offshoring. Automation will increase, but admins will focus on higher-level service quality issues. Offshoring may increase, but if you conduct iterative development, you’ll still need local bodies who know the people and the business.

MacDonald emphasizes that IT is not going away. The business units will absorb about 60 percent of it, and what’s left will focus on enterprise architecture and technology strategy, because somebody needs to keep their eyes on the horizon.

IT professionals are well situated to compete for roles as business process architects or relationship and change managers because they are not tied to one organization, which enables them to see the bigger picture. However, as tools get easier to use, expect strong competition from business process owners and domain specialists.

The IT organization might evaporate. However, to paraphrase Mark Twain, whoever predicted IT’s demise exaggerated.

About the Author

Tony Baer is principal with onStrategies, a New York-based consulting firm, and editor of Computer Finance, a monthly journal on IT economics. He can be reached via e-mail at tbaer@tbaer.com.

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