Surviving a sea change

The IT community, from code jockeys all the way up to the executive suite, is undergoing a sea change. The existence of everything IT, from job categories to entire departments, is up for reassessment, reassignment.

          The IT community, from code jockeys all the way up to the executive suite, is undergoing a sea change. The existence of everything IT, from job categories to entire departments, is up for reassessment, reassignment -- and maybe even headed toward redundancy.

          The most obvious change involves the loss of IT jobs. Many have gone from the US, and they aren't coming back. Offshore outsourcing as a percentage of IT budgets went from 12% in 2000 to 28% in 2003, according to Forrester Research. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are now 212,000 unemployed computer and mathematics professionals. No doubt the number would be even higher but for the IT workers who have given up and moved on to different careers.

          It's only going to get worse as more and more companies outsource more and more functions. Meta Group is predicting that as many as 50% of all US IT workers could shift to contract labour by 2007. Meanwhile, our seed corn is under siege: Fewer students are opting for computer science degrees as more corporate recruiters skip college campuses.

          We have also suffered the loss of IT credibility. Massive sums of money have been spent on IT in the past five years, and many businesses remain unsure of the benefits. Large projects that failed, disasters that didn't happen, revolutions that didn't come, ROI that can't be quantified -- all have dimmed the aura that surrounded IT in the late '90s.

          And then there are command-and-control issues. Should the IT function be dispersed across business units? Has IT become a utility or perhaps so pervasive that having a specific department is no longer warranted? Should the whole shebang be outsourced, or is IT still too critical to corporate strategy?

          There's no question that the industry is changing before our eyes. Our community needs to move past the stale debate over whether we are experiencing a wholesale sellout of IT workers or an inevitable, economically fueled evolution. The train has already left the station, and we need to figure out where it's heading from here. We need to focus on how changes taking place today will shape the next phase of this industry. Some issues you might want to consider:

          - What are your core competencies and core business needs?

          - How will your company comply with new government privacy and accounting regulations -- many of which will require system upgrades?

          - How would an ever-changing group of contract workers affect your budget, project schedules, quality assurance, maintenance and upgrade processes and plans?

          - If projects are built by contract workers, should their costs be borne by the affected business units? And taking this further, do business units need to go through IT to get projects done?

          - If IT isn't the builder of projects or the supplier of labour, into what will it evolve? What kind of value will it bring to the business?

          - If key skills are outsourced abroad, who will fuel the next generation of technological innovation in this country?

          - What new IT and management skills will be in demand?

          Given that technology is the future in industry after industry, it's clear that IT will have a key role to play. But whatever that role becomes, make sure your voice is heard. You can tell us what you think by visiting the discussion forum of Computerworld.com. Help plan the future now!

          Keefe is a Computerworld US editor at large. Send letters for publication in Computerworld NZ to Computerworld Letters.

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