For many, the end of the recession meant the return to the prosperity and stability that existed in pre-recession times. As economic optimism expanded, people expected that jobs, salaries, and benefits would increase in parallel with the recovery. For most, these expectations slowly became reality. Information Technology, however, is an exception that will fall incredibly short of recovery expectations. It is likely that IT will never return to pre-recession highs. The economy has triggered changes within the industry and going backward is not an option. The future of IT is forever changed. The only decisions to be made are where and how you will fit into this future.
“Why the change?” and “Why now?” you ask. IT has weathered many storms including the influx of outsourced services. No single factor is the root cause of the coming IT shift. It is the combined effect of changes in people, processes, and technology that changes how information technology fits into today’s organizations. To understand where we are going, we need to look at several influences.
In 2010, I wrote about the changes that will occur in IT jobs and IT careers. Since that time, many of my predictions have come true in regards to the increased use of cloud computing, agile development methods, and open source technologies. All of these were generally expected and they are not particularly surprising.
The remaining predictions, however, should be the most worrisome. It is the combination of severe costs constraints coupled with greater expectations, along with the advent of collaborative, technology savvy business professionals that will drive the greatest change within IT departments and across the business.
Let’s look at these two influences.
Driven. The vast majority of organizations see IT meeting their increasing needs despite large cutbacks. Slow sales and reduced revenue forced businesses to say, “We can’t afford it.” The theme of “do more with less” became prevalent. But now that businesses have continued to function without severe impact, they’ve made a significant shift to, “We can do without it.” They’ve come to expect more for less: more agility, more deliverables, more functionality, and faster response; less hassle, shorter time to delivery, and fewer required resources. The relationship between IT and business has completely changed.
Collaborative, technology savvy business professionals. The last major generational shift in IT was the PC revolution of the 1980’s, bringing extreme change in how information technology was applied in business. Today we are in the midst of another seismic shift. The next generation (the “net” generation?) has known technology from childhood. They thrive in a world of internet, instant messaging, blogs, gaming, social networking, online collaboration, and more. They think differently; they work differently; they use information differently; and they analyze and problem-solve differently.
They have radically different expectations of what technology can and should do. This signals the decreased need for outside technical skills and the closing of the skills gap between technical and business professionals. Businesses won’t need technical professionals to implement, maintain, and support systems; they’ll do it themselves. They will become increasingly self-sufficient while at the same time becoming increasingly dissatisfied with a slow and cumbersome IT. They understand IT practices and technology and won’t settle for delays and techno-babble.
What does the convergence of these influences mean for IT? I think that the answer lies in an experience I had with Group Health in regards to a customer-driven payment system conversion. This has actually occurred twice over the last 4 years so I now know that it’s a trend, at least for this company. In this conversion, Group Health customers had to open up a new account with a new payment provider and add their own contact and payment information. The whole process was poorly structured and lacked key features, but for the company, the result was achieved. No one wants to loose their health insurance so compliance with their process was pretty much guaranteed.
The future of IT Jobs and IT Careers is radically changing as the goal of business and IT alignment is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of organizations struggling to survive and grow; business executives and managers will settle for nothing less than IT integrating into their own environment. The combination of influences – business-driven IT, collaborative business models, tech-savvy business professionals, cloud computing, open source, and agile development – converge to change the shape of IT forever. As the end of IT as we know it draws near, new opportunities will arise as the next generation of information technology begins. For the innovators who are able to flourish in a time of dynamic change, the opportunities will be abundant and the rewards exceptional.