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2 March 2010

Five years on: The IT Industry

By Andrew Clifford

Corporate IT will be challenged to adopt lower-cost approaches such as virtualization, Linux and Software-as-a-Service, but need to retain traditional corporate IT values such as security and integration.

It is five years since I started writing these newsletters. It is interesting to look back and see what has changed, and where things might be going.

From a technology point of view, a number of areas have matured.

Linux has grown more mainstream. The leading distributions are now stable and mature and a real alternative to Microsoft and other proprietary operating systems, especially on servers. Other open source products, such as the OpenOffice.org suite, are now mature and stable.

Server virtualization has grown mainstream. It is now a common choice for production servers, and a very useful capability for system development and test.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has been growing significantly. It was a novelty five years ago, but is now a serious offer.

Lastly, the whole area of individual connectivity has grown. Individuals now have broadband, mobile internet, Voice over IP, and simple video conferencing. People really can work anywhere now.

Taken together, these changes have a big impact. Not long ago, businesses' IT and location were a major investment, and a barrier to entry for competitors. IT is growing cheaper, and you can now provide the IT for an organisation without major capital expenditure. Where it fits the business models, IT allows organisations to operate without the expense of fixed premises. Small companies can compete much more readily with large companies. We are only just beginning to see the impact of these changes.

IT management has also matured, particularly IT services management and services outsourcing. However, some problems stubbornly remain.

There are still big problems in IT project management. My personal view is that most IT projects are overambitious and unrealistic, and that our project management approach is too concerned with managing the truth and too adversarial. I might be naive or idealistic, but I think we have to improve.

There is also a big problem with the ongoing manageability of IT, and its longevity, particularly the structure and viability of applications. Some organisations are shifting the responsibility onto outsourcers, but the problems still remain.

These changes and problems will pose challenges for corporate IT over the next few years. There will be a competitive pressure to adopt, or justify not adopting, new lower-cost approaches, whether they be Linux, virtualisation, outsourcing or SaaS. This gives us two further challenges.

The first challenge is adopt these in a way that does not undo all the things that are good about corporate IT, such as IT security and systems integration.

The second challenge is to sort out our portfolios of IT systems so that they can be renovated, or integrated with or replaced by newer systems. This is not primarily a technical problem, and is more to do the structure and manageability of the existing IT.

In these newsletters, I have explored alternative "minimal" approaches. Next week I will outline how I think these approaches can help meet these challenges.

Next: Five years on: Minimal IT

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