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21 August 2007

Journey to the sixth circle of hell

By Andrew Clifford

There is an alternative view of IT that challenges nearly everything that we believe. Although we may not like its conclusions, it is difficult to see where this alternative view is wrong.

In Dante's Inferno the sixth circle of hell is reserved for heretics, those who preach against the teachings of the church.

Over the past few years I have been taking a journey through the ideas of IT in large businesses. I have found a great heresy, and I want to take you on the same journey so that you can see the heresy too.

To give you an idea of just how big this heresy is, here are some of its teachings:

  • IT departments should not be involved in business change.
  • Enterprise architecture and project portfolio management undermine the use of IT in the organisation.
  • Technical specialists - database administrators, security administrators, system programmers - will largely disappear.
  • The need for analysis, programming and testing will diminish.
  • Architectural solutions such as data warehousing, service oriented architecture and business process management will fade away.
  • IT project managers will have less influence.
  • IT departments may decline to little more than running email.
  • But in the end, there will be a huge growth in the use of IT by business and in the value they gain from it.

Before you burn me at the stake for heresy, let me defend myself. This journey is a hypothesis, a mental model for interpreting the state of IT and for suggesting the best way forward. IT is still a young subject, and we need hypotheses to explore and improve our ideas. This hypothesis may well be wrong.

But even though it is just a hypothesis, I can not see where the journey takes a wrong turn. To me, the interpretation and way forward are compelling. I want to take you on the same journey, so that you can judge for yourself.

You may not like where the journey takes us. I am not sure that I do. But do not just argue about the destination. Think about the journey: does it take a wrong turn, is the reasoning correct? Because if it takes no wrong turns, if the interpretation is correct, we have to accept the destination, however challenging and uncomfortable that may be.

So over the next few weeks I am going to carefully lead you along the journey to see this great heresy. If I am wrong, then you will be better armed to argue against this heresy in the future. If I am right, then your view of IT will be turned on its head, and much of what you hold dear about IT will be shattered. But in the end, the heresy is not bleak. Its view of the future is much more interesting, much more valuable, and much less constrained.

I will start the journey next week, by covering how our IT architecture, organisation and management are an accident of engineering history, rather than the most effective response to the problems of business IT.

Next: The accidental structures of IT


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