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26 October 2010

IT isn't over yet

By Andrew Clifford

There will be rewarding careers in IT for many years to come, but we need to be flexible and understand where the new opportunities will be.

Last week I took a pessimistic view of IT, wondering whether the IT careers that we take for granted are over.

The two things that worry me are the rise of outsourcing, and the trends towards packages and everything-as-a-service. To what extent does this leave rewarding careers in IT, especially in end user organisations, especially in relatively rich countries like the UK?

Outsourcing is attractive because it allows you to benefit from the economies of scale of the service provider, giving lower cost, access to greater skills and more flexible resourcing. However, this comes at the cost of greater distance from business. There will always be a role for specialists close to business who understand how to apply IT, and who can respond quickly to changing requirements. There is no benefit in outsourcing this business knowledge.

The trend away from bespoke software to packages and software-as-a-service will continue up to a point, and on-demand applications will be commonplace. However, there will still be situations unique to each organisation that will require local knowledge and local development (though this may be on an on-demand platform).

As hardware and network infrastructure becomes cheaper and easier, there is actually less of a case for outsourcing because doing it yourself is also cheaper and easier. Cost and control issues will still make it worthwhile for large companies to run their own IT, as they do for many non-IT services.

Business change will continue. Although large IT departments are often a casualty of mergers, IT is vital during the change process. As businesses merge, new businesses start up. We have more to gain from business change than most.

Technical change will continue, and we will be required to navigate businesses through it. As more services are provided on-demand, there will be many technical challenges to keep us busy.

All this suggests that there will be rewarding careers in IT for many years to come. Some things will change forever. Large companies used to have armies of in-house development staff and IT operations staff. Those jobs have gone or moved, as have the management jobs that they supported. However, if you take those jobs away, there are many jobs left, and many new jobs.

There will still be service providers and technology companies. They may shift some work to areas of lower cost, but they will still desperately need people with local contacts and business knowledge.

There will still be infrastructure and operations jobs, both in end user organisations and service providers. Some jobs, such as virtualization specialists, will be in greater demand as we shift to new delivery approaches.

Within end user organisations, there will still be a role for analysts who understand how business works, and new roles managing the relationships between the organisation and their service providers.

IT has for may years been a tool for business change and efficiency, and we could be accused of profiting at the expense of others. Now it is our turn to be more flexible and to understand the new opportunities rather than dwell on the past.

Next: Architecture and governance in an on-demand world

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