Death-defying craziness

Want to hear something crazy? Forrester Research says the IT shop will be killed off in three years, its functions absorbed by outsourcers or the business departments currently served by corporate IT.

Want to hear something crazy? Forrester Research says the IT shop will be killed off in three years, its functions absorbed by outsourcers or the business departments currently served by corporate IT. Want to hear something even crazier? One reporter told me that for Computerworld US’s upcoming Premier 100 feature, he asked US IT chiefs what they thought of getting top corporate management — we’re talking CEO and board level here — involved in picking technology and vendors. Roughly half the IT bosses thought it was the right approach. The other half bristled at the very idea.

Now that’s crazy. Of course top brass should be involved. OK, sometimes it shouldn’t be much more than the way your 5-year-old is involved in picking the new car. But sometimes those bigwigs actually know something you don’t — say, about a merger or spin-off or partnership or new business in the pipeline that needs certain products or technologies. Keep ’em smartened up, and maybe they can keep you from wasting millions of dollars and months of time and effort.

And the notion that the IT department will go the way of the dodo in three years? Baloney. This time, grandstanding Forrester analyst Bobby Cameron missed the boat.

The IT shop doesn’t have three years left. It doesn’t have three minutes. It died years ago.

Want proof? Everything that was the heart and soul, the defining characteristics of the traditional IT shop, is gone. Everything. The two-year pipeline for applications. The revolving door on the CIO’s office. The splendid isolation of the glass house — user requirements thrown over the wall, finished systems chucked back.

That grand old IT shop is long gone, bulldozed and buried by business and technical realities — PCs and Y2k, mergers and downsizing, e-commerce and tech-smart users. It’s dead. Deceased. Pffft. And good riddance.

What survives is enough to give anybody an identity crisis, that’s true enough. We’re doing everyone else’s job, and they’re doing ours. With e-commerce and ERP, we’re hip-deep in sales, marketing, manufacturing and logistics. The departments that used to have a corner on those things are now buying technology, prototyping applications and swearing at vendors — our old specialties.

Some users like to think they can handle all their own tech needs. But those grand delusions generally evaporate when the network dies or some-assembly-required software turns out to be a little too complicated. Outsourcing? They love it for well-defined projects they can afford to bill by the hour. But when they want to squeeze a buck or sneak by with fuzzy specs on a little project, they still turn to IT.

And they will — at least if we don’t get nutso about being an integral part of the business. That means we talk to everybody, from users in the trenches to top brass in the boardroom. We pick their brains, they pick ours. We think business, they think technology. Everybody’s in the loop.

The old IT shop — and that old IT/business divide — is already dead. But IT, or whatever we’ll call it tomorrow, has a long road ahead of it.

Actually, I suspect Bobby Cameron — an ex-IT guy from Chase Manhattan — knows it’s bunk when he says the IT shop will be gone in three years. But he also knows nobody will hold him to his prediction — in 2003, who will remember?

And bunk or not, he knows “The Death of IT” will rattle a lot of cages. Maybe it’ll even shake some IT bosses out of their craziness about being part of the business.

Hayes, Computerworld US’s staff columnist, has covered IT for more than 20 years.

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