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Is the IT Department Dead? 417

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the that-explains-the-smell-in-there dept.
alphadogg writes "The IT department is dead, and it is a shift to utility computing that will kill this corporate career path. So predicts Nicholas Carr in his new book launched Monday, "The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google." Carr is best known for a provocative Harvard Business Review article entitled "Does IT Matter?" Published in 2003, the article asserted that IT investments didn't provide companies with strategic advantages because when one company adopted a new technology, its competitors did the same."
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Is the IT Department Dead?

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  • by RealErmine (621439) <commerce@NOSpaM.wordhole.net> on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:01PM (#21942526)
    Could be. Nobody's moved down there for weeks and the stink is awful.
  • by The_Wilschon (782534) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:02PM (#21942528) Homepage

    IT investments didn't provide companies with strategic advantages because when one company adopted a new technology, its competitors did the same.
    So it seems that failing to invest in IT will provide companies with a strategic disadvantage...
    • by cprael (215426) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:18PM (#21942760)
      This is called "table stakes". If you can't put in the table stakes, you aren't even in the game. He also ignores that first adopters of any given technology gain a marginal strategic advantage.

      Hell, substitute "self-propelled vehicle" for "IT department". By his argument, horse-and-buggy delivery is strategically viable for most companies.
      • by dekemoose (699264) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:52PM (#21943192)
        Actually early adopters will simply improvie their operational effectiveness in relation to the competition, this is not the same as strategic advantage, Michael Porter discusses this rather nicely in his November 96 article in Harvard Business Review. As the competition adopts the technologies you had adopted earlier their operation efficiencies will match yours and there will be a gradual erosion of the advantage that you have. A strategic advantage is something which can not be easily duplicated by the competition.
        • by Otter (3800) on Monday January 07, 2008 @01:09PM (#21943418) Journal
          Actually early adopters will simply improvie their operational effectiveness in relation to the competition, this is not the same as strategic advantage...

          Terminology aside, Carr's whole point is that the advantages of first adopters do not outweigh the added costs, wrong choices and time spent on cultivating "vision" and "alignment" relative to companies who wait for a consensus to emerge and then make their investment. He certainly doesn't "ignore" the issue.

    • by sammy baby (14909)

      So it seems that failing to invest in IT will provide companies with a strategic disadvantage...


      Hmm. Sounds familiar [imdb.com]...

      Joshua: Greetings, Professor Falken.
      Stephen Falken: Hello, Joshua.
      Joshua: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?
    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:23PM (#21942826) Journal

      So it seems that failing to invest in IT will provide companies with a strategic disadvantage...
      While I won't presume to know more than the author of that book, on the face of it, it seems like a good thing to adopt new technology, even if everyone else does the same, if for no other reason than the increased efficiency it should bring.

      I also should mention that I take issue with anyone that thinks "...the bulk of business computing shifts out of private data centers and into the cloud." Utilizing "the cloud" requires businesses to give up a lot of control over their data.

      I can't imagine big business thinking that it'd be a good idea to put their information security in someone else's hands.
      • by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:51PM (#21943162) Journal
        Even if business spin off IT into the cloud, what then? Unless they're going to go for an all-in-one solution, it means someone is going to have to manage this. I agree that in the long-run we'll probably see a reduction in the number of IT staff for certain kinds of companies, probably a return to the olden days of timesharing to some degree, with hosted apps. Heck I know quite a few mid-sized companies that basically contract out their IT services already, but there's a downsize to that. I have a couple of these companies sniffing up my tree looking to hire me, because they simply can't keep up with the demand, and I've heard of customer complaints because the network is down, and their contracted IT company takes a day or more to get out there to fix the problem. That's the one advantage of an in-house IT department, you tend to get pretty fast response times.

        But I think the best lesson out of this is to beware of anyone making grand proclamations, whether it's this guy or Dvorak or whatever. Let's remember, trolling is not restricted to Internet forums.
    • by s4m7 (519684)

      So it seems that failing to invest in IT will provide companies with a strategic disadvantage...
      Well said, but it can even be considered without looking at the competition. If a technology offers a positive ROI on deployment in terms of worker productivity per IT dollar spent, then it would be irresponsible not to deploy. If it does not offer a net positive ROI, then there's no advantage to deploying the technology even if your competition does
  • by Peter Trepan (572016) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:03PM (#21942554)
    Now that all dairies use it, pasteurization doesn't give any dairy an advantage over any other. Clearly, pasteurization is dead.
    • by EgoWumpus (638704)
      There are actually people who are into raw milk [reuters.com], suggesting that the analogy is perhaps not quite appropriate - unless you're suggesting that society is likely to develop an energetic Luddite business community.
    • by jayhawk88 (160512)
      THANK YOU! I knew someone would crystallize my thoughts on this. I'd really like to meet the "competitive" company that didn't have an IT shop (formal or otherwise).
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by pangu (322010)

      Clearly, pasteurization is dead.

      That's kind of the point, no?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by timeOday (582209)
      I don't think you understand the argument at all. Ask yourself these questions:

      1) To whom does pasteurization give a strategic advantage? (Answer: nobody, because everybody has it and it's the same everywhere)
      2) Is pasteurization a "career"? (Answer: how many "pasteurizers" do you know?)

  • Nope! (Score:4, Funny)

    by eck011219 (851729) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:04PM (#21942568)
    All of us down here in IT are alive and kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii
  • HEEEELLLLLLL NO! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spikedvodka (188722) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:05PM (#21942576)
    I'd like to see google services fix the computer that "Joe in accounting" just "updated"

    seriously though... There is something to be said for physical presence. I can remote control computers, yes, but when the network connection isn't working, I have to physically get my hands on it. "just ship it out"... 9 times out of 10, it's a silly setting that an even sillier user changed, that they shouldn't have
    • You could very well have some sort of a failsafe serial line connected to every machine. I'm sure that the black hats would loooove that.
    • by zymurgyboy (532799) <zymurgyboy@yahoo ... com minus distro> on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:42PM (#21943034)
      Exactly. The title of this is misleading. IT is not going away as we know anytime soon. Mr. Carr may be onto something with the idea that storage (in particular), data processing, and indexing may be on their way to the cloud and out of the hands of your local "Bob, NAS administrator." It is hard to justify the costs of temporary and HUGE amounts of disk space that may not be needed in a few months. And they are insanely expensive, even before you consider redundant systems, disaster recovery, etc.

      However, support functions and basic networking would be a lot harder to ship off to a third party with marginal personal interest in the multitude of operations they would be supporting. Disagree? Then I give you EDS and their infamous Navy IT services contract, and countless other examples.

    • I'd like to see google services fix the computer that "Joe in accounting" just "updated"

      seriously though... There is something to be said for physical presence.

      Of course there is something to be said for physical presence. There is also something to be said for running your own on-location power plant (to use his example). The question is, is it worth it. For 99% of corporations it doesn't make sense to run their own power plant. Likewise, I think he's right about it not making sense for 99% of corporations to have their own IT department - the costs are high, centralized computing as a utility is getting cheap and effective. Only a matter of time.

      Of course, w

    • by whoever57 (658626)

      I'd like to see google services fix the computer that "Joe in accounting" just "updated"

      He also says that the PC will go away, although he does not say what will replace it.

      Obviously, in his scenario, one needs only a browser with various plugins, the question is -- what kind of box will provide this and will it require significant support or no support? Personally, I doubt the "no support" idea.

      I suppose that there is also a dumb terminal possibility, where the user terminal provides only something li

  • Respect. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by B5_geek (638928) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:07PM (#21942594)
    As long as IT is considered a mystic black-art that anybody who 'knows-computers' can do then it will never receive the respect that it deserves. All IT jobs should be considered on the same "Skilled Trade" tier as plumbers, welders, electricians, etc. As long as the PHB thinks that his son Johnny has a computer so anybody can do this job, then it will always be a dead-end position.

    There should be a registered apprenticeship, and it should take years to finish. The Certification schools should all be closed down and only true colleges and universities be registered to offer the courses.

    If any boss thinks that you could be replaced by a student for $10.00/hr, then there is no respect.

     
    • Re:Respect. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BunnyClaws (753889) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:15PM (#21942722) Homepage
      You say IT jobs should be treated as a "Skilled Trade" like plumbers, welders, electricians, etc... However, you only want Universities/Colleges to be allowed to teach this trade? Are you pushing for a University provided vocational program? Kind of like the B.A. in Plumbing the University of California system offers?
      • Re:Respect. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jdgeorge (18767) on Monday January 07, 2008 @01:29PM (#21943652)
        You say IT jobs should be treated as a "Skilled Trade" like plumbers, welders, electricians, etc... However, you only want Universities/Colleges to be allowed to teach this trade? Are you pushing for a University provided vocational program? Kind of like the B.A. in Plumbing the University of California system offers?

        Actually, you touch on a really interesting subject. The US used to have a strong system of vocational education, which provided skilled labor for a number of industries' needs. Today, however, the vocational education system is increasingly abandoned, denigrated, and "replaced" by low-quality (low value) and inappropriate college education. As a result, vocational education is less focused and far more expensive than it needs to be.

        Of course, universities love this trend, as it brings them money (at the expense of the traditional vocational schools and programs).

        And no, I'm not going to support these opinions and assertions with any real data or references; this is Slashdot! (Actually, I'm not sure the best place to find statistics about this subject.)
  • Spurious logic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Caspian (99221) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:07PM (#21942600)
    I take issue with the claim that investments in IT do not create a strategic advantage because when one company starts using a new technology, so will its competitors. Isn't the same true of, oh, business strategies? Humans are, after all, primates-- and, as they say, "monkey see, monkey do". Anyone who hasn't noticed that large companies tend to emulate each others' strategies isn't paying much attention. So is the C[EIF]O career path dead too? How about the janitorial career path? After all, every company's janitor cleans shit stains out of the toilet in the same exact ways... so should companies stop investing in janitors?
    • Re:Spurious logic (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Xiaran (836924) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:40PM (#21943016)
      Good point. One thing that also bugs me a little after reading TFA is that even tho a new technology may be adopted by all competitors it is not always evenly and consistently adopted. Some competitors utilise new technologies better than others. The IT world is full of examples of this. Technology is not the key... it is how *people* *use* and *implement* technology that drives up productivity.
    • Actually, the same is true of, say, electricity and indoor plumbing. Joseph Schumpeter wrote about this phenomenon, oh, 80 years or so ago. Basically, any given technology gives diminishing returns after it's introduction, and ultimately becomes a necessity rather than a differentiator if it provides value to the business. To the article's point, while IT is providing less of a differentiator, that doesn't mean it's less important. It also doesn't mean that a company will cease to need people who know h
    • I suggest you read something by Michael Porter. Basically, doing something that everyone can do and would want to do is not a strategy. A good business strategy should be valuable, rare, inimitable and suit your organization. [wikipedia.org] In other words the other players can't do it or don't want to do it. For example, Southwest is profitable because the major airlines can't copy their cost structure without losing their variety of destinations. So, the airlines don't want to copy them (continental tried by failed miser
  • by sm62704 (957197) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:08PM (#21942612) Journal
    They predicted the death of the IT department twenty years ago when the PC became widespread. It didn't happen, and it won't now.

    Back then it actually looked like it might. Now it doesn't. Who's going to replace that hardware router when it fails? Upgrade the equipment?

    Perhaps the "IT department" will become for most companies what the post office is to the mail department; i.e. hired out to a specialty firm. But that hardly matters to the geeks in the IT department, they'll still get their paychecks. Their checks will just have a different company's name on them, that's all.

    Good luck offshoring hardware replacement, or doing more than a script-based "help" desk.
  • by jjm496 (1004054) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:08PM (#21942614)
    "Business units and even individual employees will be able to control the processing of information directly, without the need for legions of technical people." Sure, Users are really likely to be picking up those skills themselves real soon. It will happen the same day they all remember ctrl-c is copy, and ctrl-v is paste. I won't hang up my pocket protector anytime soon.
  • Just like.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by malkavian (9512) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:08PM (#21942616) Homepage
    Engineering didn't matter, because, hell.. Once one person started using the wheel, everyone did, so what was the advantage in anyone having it?
    Though really, it's more like the public transport system. By rights, it should be cheaper and more efficient if everyone used the mass transit system, and we all hopped on busses and trains run by large commercial entities with a monopoly on all transport.

    Reality, on the other hand doesn't quite work that way. There are a lot of places that will simply want their own stuff (hey, you control your building and your servers a lot more closely than putting them in a big datacenter, and hey.. What about when your building loses external network connections?).
    The world is a diverse place with a lot of different cases. And any company that trusts their lifeblood to another (storing in one datacenter) trusts a little more than they really should.

    The IT department, even in the world of datacenters, will still be there. Same as facilities departments, same as every other department, just the role may shift a little.
  • First, outsourcing IT is a bad idea. First, there's always something you don't and shouldn't trust to someone else. Data security can only be 100 percent assured if you know where it is. Storing data in Google's cloud and only relying on it is a recipe for disaster.
  • Not in IT..., the notion that if you adopt a competitive advantage in terms of a technology, others will too is a universal. So, in the 2003 article, am I to understand that this guy suggested essentially that no one should do R&D because others will benefit from it eventually? Strange... why should anyone believe this guy now?
  • ... in Hyderabad.

  • Don't believe it. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrCrassic (994046) <<li.ame> <ta> <detacerped>> on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:13PM (#21942676) Journal

    So IT in corporate America is going to be run completely by external companies, which I would assume are the companies that provide the hardware to us, according to this author.

    I consider this flawed in two ways:

    1. IT services are not dead: Even if no IT department existed, some company, person or entity will have to be responsible for upkeeping the hardware and software implemented, as well as ensuring that the network components and business computers are all functioning properly. You could change the name, slice and dice it a thousand ways, but in the end, the premise is the same: managaing the spread of information in an environment, which from what I understand is information technology.

    2. IT departments are not dead: If businesses knew that outsourcing services to other companies were cheaper, this would have happened a long time ago. Not like the IT department people wouldn't have jobs; they would just be working for the companies supported by the corporations. So far as I know, it is by far less expensive to maintain an in-house staff that takes care of all of that then pay three-digit-per-hour services to do the same job, and not have adequate knowledge of the business network.

    I am pretty new to the corporate aspect of the field, so I might be missing something that this author saw that prompted him to write his diatribe; if I did, please fill me in.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jimicus (737525)
      If businesses knew that outsourcing services to other companies were cheaper, this would have happened a long time ago.

      Depending entirely on the nature of the business, a lot of companies in some industries have done exactly this.

      It makes sense for an organisation with very little requirements in terms of technology - £5,000-10,000 per year will provide a fair bit of consultancy as long as your requirements aren't that complicated, but won't pay much in the way of fulltime IT support staff.

      It can also
      • by MrCrassic (994046)

        I agree that low-maintenance companies may not need an in-house staff (which is the reason-of-existence) for a lot of consultencies and hosted providers. However, would this be practical for a global or very large national company like Goldman Sachs or Ford?

        It is these conglomerates and monopolies that justify the critical need for IT services and in house staff to provide them. Outsourcing major components of these departments would be detrimental not only to these companies, but the nation as well, unli

    • IT Depends... (Score:3, Insightful)

      It depends on what the IT department is doing for the company. If the company is selling hot dogs or pursuing some equivalent activity, then IT is not going to generate value. IT then just supplies administrative tools to keep track of things, and having your own IT department may make as much sense as making your own paper.

      If the company is in high tech, research & development, or in an environment where logistics are critical, then IT could make a real difference in the efficiency and profitability

  • In fact, I feel much better... I think I'll go for a walk now...

    As long as there is a PEBKAC there will be a need for IT and I don't believe the users will get any better anytime soon...
  • Vendors continue to make proprietary software and firmware that refuse to work with competing and complimentary vendor products (and that will be forever), so I think it's safe to say IT shops will be around a very long time.
  • by howlinmonkey (548055) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:17PM (#21942750)
    I think the book's author missed a step in his logic. The centralization of power utilities didn't obsolete electricians. IT departments will become more like electricians, helping companies deal with localized problems and building local infrastructure. Application service providers will not take over all datacenter functions, and as long as end users are proud of their technological ignorance, local support will be absolutely necessary. Now, this may mean opportunities for more independent service providers and a new round of technological entrepreneurialism, but not the death of the IT professional.
  • From the sounds of it, this author pays his bills by coming up with sensational, baseless titles. I'm going to now write a book declaring the gasoline-powered car DEAD since gas is now $3/gallon. Sure, we still need them and they'll be around for at least another 20 years, but can't you just imagine some hypothetical scenario where people wouldn't drive cars anymore?
  • by wizkid (13692) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:19PM (#21942782) Homepage

    But there are some CEO's and CTO's that will read this, and cut more funding from IT departments, making life even worse for people going into and working in IT. More skilled people will leave, and then with less manpower, more crackers will be breaking into the companies that are stupid enough to listen to this moron, causing more tort lawsuits, more credit card and personal financial profiles will be stolen by russians, thereby causing the total collapse of western civilization as we know it.

    Or maybe not.
  • by br00tus (528477) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:20PM (#21942796)
    In the past few years at Fortune 1000 companies I have seen just the opposite happening. I have seen centralized IT for the corporation starved, while divisions built up their own IT departments. This has been happening at the IT departments my friends work at as well. Things are not becoming centralized, but decentralized. This person has the opposite happening - instead of centralized corporate IT being decentralized to divisions, centralized corporate IT is being super-centralized so a utility is the center of IT for multiple corporations. This is not what is happening on the ground, the opposite is happening.

    If it was, Marc Andreessen would have struck lucky with not only Netscape but Loudcloud. But he didn't, Loudcloud wasn't successful because corporations are not doing this. I can see how it makes sense to Andreessen and this fellow that this should happen. But corporations do not follow this logic, nor the logic of a Scott Adams or other techies who often puzzle at why corporations do things in a way that appears so peculiar to them. IMHO, it does make sense what corporations are doing, the problem is the Andreessens and Carrs and Adams of the world don't fully understand what the purpose of a corporation is.

  • The clear answer is no. The reason for this is that in a perfect world, people would be able to pick up multiple proficiencies easily. However, that simply isn't the case in real life - a relatively small amount of people have this trait. Rather than weed out everyone capable of doing a job (say, data entry) because they can't handle even rudimentary IT, it is much more efficient to keep all the people capable of doing a job (data entry in this case), then hire an IT staff. You get all the people capabl
  • by boyfaceddog (788041) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:21PM (#21942804) Journal
    I love that line about 'corporations used to generate their own electricity, but then the utilities took over'. Yeah right. If the corpation was a big enough consumer of electricity the utility company couldn't generate the amount of power consumed and the company had to generate its own power. Even today U.S. Steel owns and operates electrical production plants and is working to increase the ouput, not decrease it.

    If this is his best analogy, I think IT is safe.
  • by Tom (822) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:22PM (#21942814) Homepage Journal
    I know one large corporation from the inside that has, more or less, abandoned the IT department: Telecom Italia. Here, IT is considered an "add on" and what's there of IT is tacked on to the departments it is supposed to support, or is outsourced (usually to Acenture).

    TI has the worst IT that I have ever seen, by a wide margin. I have never met so many so incompetent fools before. I have never seen such a shoddy network, such crappy software, and such a low quality in general. Run an IT project within TI and you have dozens of consultants running around, most producing work that is so shitty you have to completely rewrite it from scratch before you can use it.

    This is a long story put very short, but it's taught me one thing: If you think that IT doesn't matter, that you don't need an IT department, that you can run IT as an afterthought, you will pay threefold for every buck you save in overhead, quality, availability, security and everything else that takes someone who knows what the fuck he's doing to get it done right.
  • I perform consulting services for fortune 500 companies; I see an amazing amount of businesses where IT drives the business, instead of business driving IT decisions i.e "tail wagging the dog".

    GOOD business leadership determines the needs of the business and the market, defines and delivers a set of service requirements, and then works with IT to buy/build system(s) to deliver the required services. (On time and budget is a whole 'nother story) If IT is failing to deliver, then its poor management of the b

  • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:26PM (#21942856) Journal
    TFA:

    "In the long run, the IT department is unlikely to survive, at least not in its familiar form," Carr writes. "It will have little left to do once the bulk of business computing shifts out of private data centers and into the cloud. Business units and even individual employees will be able to control the processing of information directly, without the need for legions of technical people."

    Sheeeyeah- RIIIIGHT.

    Wrong on SO many levels.

    Little miss dolly dots who can barely operate MSWord and her email client is going to have the expertise to "Control the processing of information directly"? Fuck no. People like that couldn't spill pee out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel.

    I'm in an academic environment. I work with a lot of really smart and VERY accomplished people, but that doesn't mean they know jackshit about computers. They need Mike (our I.T. god) on an almost daily basis.

    A friend of mine works for a Well Known Thinktank. Nobel prize winners, genius types. Most of them wouldn't be able to distinguish a USB cable from Firewire if their lives depended on it. you could give them tutorials all day long - and all you'd be doing is wasting their time, which is REALLY expensive.

    And setting up these networks? And troubleshooting it all? When the print server's on windows, but the file server's on linux and I'm on a Mac and need something to print NOW? I am I going to "Control the processing of information directly"? I could, but in fact: Fuck No. I'm gonna call Mike, the IT deity for our department and he will fix it. IT will never go away, because (not to sound snobby, just acknowledging reality) some of us have better things to do with our time.

    RS

    • Having worked in the IT industry for both the College Education system and in Pro Audio (think Warner Bros, Universal, Sony), I can say that I was shocked to learn how utterly helpless gifted, brilliant, and educated people are.

      Most professors at the University, whom were honored scholars, prize winners, and very well respected and brilliant individuals had absolutely no ability to operator a computer out side of the bubble thy built. If you tried to deploy a new version of a program, they would immediately
    • Little miss dolly dots who can barely operate MSWord and her email client is going to have the expertise to "Control the processing of information directly"? Fuck no. People like that couldn't spill pee out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel.

      BOB SLYDELL
      So what you do is you take the specifications from the customers and
      you bring them down to the software engineers?

      TOM
      That, that's right.

      BOB PORTER
      Well, then I gotta ask, then why can't the customers just take the
      specifications directly to the software people, huh?

      TOM
      Well, uh, uh, uh, because, uh, engineers are not good at dealing with
      customers.

      BOB SLYDELL
      You physically take the specs from the customer?

      TOM
      Well, no, my, my secretary does that, or, or the fax.

      BOB SLYDELL
      Ah.

      BOB PORTER
      Then you must p

  • It does make sense for some companies to focus on provided resources, and some very good examples are given. Further, it makes sense for many comanies to outsorce their datacenters (IBM has been a major provider of dedicate, vendor-run, datacenters, as is EDS).

    Of course, these providers will still need employees (the electric company has employees running their power plants), though there's an effeciency that should mean less are neccessairy.

    Also, data isn't electricity. It doesn't make sense for all compa
  • Ive been predicting this for a while now.

    While IT wont totally dry up, especially in huge shops, i do see a large part of the market for IT in the SMB world disappearing. The trend is already there.

    We have pretty much 'technologied' ourselves out of a job.
  • During the early '80's all I heard was not to go into programming because computers will soon be able to program themselves. Still waiting for that one to happen...
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias [wikipedia.org]

    And I'm not even going to bother debating the absurdity of his electricity-computer power comparison...
  • My company insists on thinking of IT as a cost center rather than a strategic advantage. They would sacrifice millions of dollars in engineering productivity for the sake of saving a few thousand in the IT budget.

  • We've heard this before. There's a presentation in AFIPS 1966 in which someone from Control Data was saying that each metropolitan area would have one giant, shared supercomputer.

    "Grid computing" was a flop commercially, once the vendors started charging for it. Sun's service [sun.com] is still around, but they don't talk about it much any more. That was more like an effort to find something to do with their unsold server inventory. ResPower Render Farm [respower.com] has a real but very specialized business, quietly renderi

  • Every time I see anyone reference Edison in any kind of positive way, I just feel morally obligated to point out that him along with JP Morgan were some of the biggest assholes in science.

    The real name we should remember with awe and praise is Nikolai Tesla. He deserves the spot in history that Edison unjustly occupies and he deserves at least me trying to make the effort to point this out to you all, even if I get modded down for being off topic. He deserves better.
  • Just like payroll goes to ADP, security guards come from Briggs, HR/Benefits are outsourced to Fidelity, the cafeteria is run by Sedexo, toss your IT to IBM or Accenture or CSC or HP or someone. If it's not something you see a strategic advantage in doing then don't do it. Why would you?
  • the IT department ... will have little left to do once the bulk of business computing shifts out of private data centers and into the cloud

    I'm sick of this love affair with "the cloud" (which I understand to mean " on the internet"). The cloud is neither reliable nor secure, and storing your sensitive data in it is suicidal. By the time you make the effort to secure your data (and secure access to it as well), you might as well have kept it on-site.

  • If every business used 100% vanilla package software, and no customization was needed to integrate Package A to Package B, then maybe this conjecture might be true. But there are two rationales for having an in-house IT department: (a) One throat to choke when it comes to support; and (b) The widely prevalent and generally unfounded belief that "our business is unique and requires significant customization" which means you need IT business analysts and developers to specify, implement and maintain those cus
  • Look at tools like SBS(Small Business Server), which has great remote tools to accomplish maybe 90% after (proper) configuration/installation. For companies with fewer than 50 persons, there is a lot of momentum in that direction. I know one vendor who supports 200+ small businesses in LA county with a staff of 4. Two work remotely and two in the field for the occasional onside need.

    Sure, not every small business uses MS stuff, but the cost advantage of SBS2003 is pretty significant for many small compani

  • But he argues that the Internet, combined with computer hardware and software that has become commoditized, will enable the utility computing model to replace today's client/server model.

    WTF? That makes no sense whatsoever. That's how you know the guy is completely clueless.
  • The first objections people bring up when talking about utility computing is about security and something along the lines of "I'd never trust my data to Google." etc. The fear is usually something about having your data sold to a competitor.

    But the fact of the matter is businesses trust their data with contractors all the time. Using a utility computing vendor is no different than trusting the contractor you hire in house. It's all dependent on the contract language and what is signed.
  • by swordgeek (112599) on Monday January 07, 2008 @01:45PM (#21943852) Journal
    Carr's "infamous" HBR article in 2003 made it appear that he's either an idiot, or someone just looking to get attention however he can. Furthermore, the five years that have passed since that article have proved him WRONG. Not just slightly off, but flat-out wrong in nearly every prediction he made.

    Why are we bothering to listen to this idiot now?
  • by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:01PM (#21944024)
    Google and YouTube can have minimal IT staff because they have designed their businesses from the ground up to be this way. Other businesses, like financial corporations, have their business rules imposed by Congress and the IRS. Almost every new rule from the government, like the paperwork reduction act, actually increases paperwork and the expences with it.
  • by PPH (736903) on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:01PM (#21944036)

    IT investments didn't provide companies with strategic advantages because when one company adopted a new technology, its competitors did the same.
    If you treat your IT folks like minimum wage laborers and encourage them to jump ship to your competitors, then this is true. Aside from some technology companies, what differentiates one from another are their business processes. As most of these processes are implemented in various corporate information systems, knowing the latter can give your competitors insight into the former. Another way to look at this: If your company hasn't made the effort to optimize its processes to suit its own corporate strategies, then you have given up the opportunity to use them as leverage to gain market share.

    Most keep their IT proprietary and in-house. Proprietary for the reasons I've given above. The keep it in-house because they realize that, by outsourcing it, at some point they are going to end up paying consultants for a system and those consultants are free to take the lessons learned and apply them to all their clients.

  • Cost Centers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JerkBoB (7130) on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:11PM (#21944158)
    Right around 4 years ago, I made a decision to get out of IT. Not because I didn't like it (I've spent most of the past decade since school making six figures or close to it), but because I had a very hard time imagining a good life after ten more years of being in IT. Sure, I could move up into management (but I'd decided that managing more than 3-4 people is a drag, and/or I'm just not good at it -- recognizing one's level of incompetence is important), or I could keep on at the level I was at. I was married, though, starting a family, etc. Being on-call 24/7 sucks. Not being able to take a vacation without worrying about things falling apart sucks. Being tied to the local economy sucks when you've decided to move out a big metro area. Etc. etc.

    There were two events that finally crystallized things for me:

    1. I worked myself out of a job -- I partnered with a friend who needed someone to run the technology for a company he'd bought. I did such a good job of improving the infrastructure and training the junior sysadmin that we got to a point where we agreed that my six-figure salary did not make sense anymore. We parted ways, mostly amicably. Unfortunately, I had relocated to a part of the country that has a feeble economy, and the local IT jobs paid half what I was making, at best.

    2. After spending time looking around locally and nationally for another lead sysadmin job, it finally dawned on me that I was screwed. My most enjoyable times as a sysadmin were when I was younger, single, and working for startups with more money than they knew what to do with. I had lots of responsibility and cash, and used both to make my job what I wanted it to be. Nowadays, I can't afford (literally!) that kind of job, and besides, I'm overqualified to be the young go-getter in a startup. The alternative is to go and work for an "established" IT department, which would give me the salary, benefits, and (most of) the stability I need now. Bleah.

    Ultimately, I realized that the problem with IT is that it is a cost center. Those with a business background will be familiar with this concept, but it was an epiphany for me. Just like admin assistants, HR, janitorial staff, and facilities folks, IT are leeches on the company's resources. In a startup, the IT folks can play a role in creation of product, but in big, established companies, IT is there simply to maintain competitive parity with other companies. If executives could get rid of all those stupid servers, printers, desktops, whatever and simply focus on creating profits, they would. And so, when crunch time hits, IT gets hurt along with all the other cost centers.

    With that realization in hand, I started re-shaping my career to get into product development. It's taken me a few years of scut work (having to start over again was something of a shock), but now I'm well on my way along a new career path in the world of HPC. It's a pretty narrow niche, but it's exciting and lucrative (for now). I create product now, and so I am directly responsible for increasing the corporate profits (hopefully!). I'm out of cost centers. I expect that I'll probably have to reinvent myself again at least once before I'm ready to hit the beach, but I've discovered that it's not so bad.

    I guess the point of this rambling post is to encourage others in my previous situation to embrace change. Don't be afraid of the transition period. Accept that things will probably change anyhow, so it's best to be the one driving the change, rather than feeling victimized. Finally, make sure that you're still having fun. My father-in-law is in his mid-70s, and he still wakes up feeling excited about work every day. That's how I want to be.
  • riiight... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MECC (8478) on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:11PM (#21944160)

    He envisions a utility computing era where "managing an entire corporate computing operation would require just one person sitting at a PC and issuing simple commands over the Internet to a distant utility."
    IT seems more like accounting than electricity, except that due to the highly tractable nature of programming, it often serves more diverse needs.. Last time I looked, anyplace with more than 100 employees had more than one accountant. Really, the author seems to be on crack.
  • by xdroop (4039) on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:43PM (#21944568) Homepage Journal
    ...the long answer is 'no' with a 'but'.

    I think people are confusing two jobs here: help desk is not necessarily Information Technology. It is a service provided by IT today, however to lump it all in with IT is the same over-simplification as lumping "HTML jockeys" in with "programmers".

    If Sally in Accounting can't drive her Word to get to the printer correctly, or Joe's hard disk needs to be replace, those are always going to be a help desk job, and that's always best served on site (assuming there's enough of a demand to make it cost-effective). However, outsourcing applications, data storage, and other services will see a corresponding decline in in-house IT.

    Which sucks for the help desk monkeys, as there's no easy ladder from help desk into the "harder" IT tasks.

    But the IT services will be outsourced:

    • outsourced email
    • outsourced file storage and sharing (ie MS-Sharepoint)
    • outsourced backups
    • outsourced compute farm (happening today in a small way)
    • outsourced desktop (you could run a simple office today using Sun Ray technology, and back-end it with Windows terminal services or VMs for Windows clients)

    Many of you are laughing, but all these services are happening today at varying scales. Eventually it will be cost-effective.

  • by Thumper_SVX (239525) on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:55PM (#21944764) Homepage
    Really, I have no idea how to respond to TFA. It's wrong on so many levels.

    While there is a point here that IT is changing in radical ways, didn't it always? IT has been a moving target for decades and will continue to be. Doesn't mean it's going away.

    There's also the big problem he doesn't even seem to fathom; that any company worth its salt would rather have an IT department of employees. Why? Well, what happens if your primary production database goes down? Well, if you have an army of employees, you'll have an army of people mobilized in an instant to resolve the issue as quickly and reliably as possible because their jobs depend on it. If you have the same happen with "cloud IT" then you've got some call center rep in the Philippines who only knows you as customer X and really doesn't have a sense of ownership of the problem.

    I must admit, I work in a Corporate IT environment after years of working as a consultant. I see the vast difference between the mindset of a consultant and an employee as a sense of ownership and a sense of being part of something bigger. Consultants (and cloud IT people) are tactical; they fill a need today. Employees are strategic; they try to do the best job they can to ensure they've still got a job tomorrow. Sure, it doesn't always work out and not everyone's of that mindset. However, I tend to find that those who do not have the strategic mindset tend not to last long in IT.

    As much as I'd like to "ride the wave" of Cloud IT... knows I have the know-how to set up something truly great... I don't think it's going to be much more than an interesting aside to the IT industry as a whole. It'll provide some services to companies in the same way as consultants do; they'll fill a need in the interim until they can put in a permanent solution. The only place I see "Cloud IT" becoming a force to be reckoned with is the small company; less than 250 employees perhaps... where it's usually not cost-effective to maintain an IT department. A lot of the smaller end of this (100 employees) tend to hire consultants to deal with their IT needs... this won't be that different. However, there'll still be a need for the consultants in question to put in and maintain the local hardware.

    But then there's the aspect of reliability; what if you can't get to your applications? Who do you call? The app vendor? Your ISP? The consultant who maintains your routers and may not be available until after 3pm? I know the small companies I still do consulting for like having local IT infrastructure (email, web and file servers) so that in the event something's really messed up and the apps don't work, worst case a phone call to me where I can talk a secretary through rebooting the file server usually does the trick. However, this isn't cloud IT... this is local IT supported by someone who's remote. Doable, but not something you need to rely on for your business!
  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Monday January 07, 2008 @05:23PM (#21946798) Homepage

    I worked at a truck-stop company (Flying J) working on their point-of-sale system. Which, trust me, covers a multitude more sins than you'd care to imagine. This exchange pretty much sums up why IT in a place like that won't go away:

    CEO: "So why can't we just buy off-the-shelf software to do that?"
    Me: "Because there is no off-the-shelf software that does that. And by the time it's common enough that you can buy it off the shelf, we've had it in production and solid for 5 years."

    Example: RFID for transactions. Flying J was starting to do this back in 2000 for the big-rig side of the station. Grab nozzle, fuel, hang up nozzle, take receipt. That was 8 years ago, and you still can't find off-the-shelf systems that do this, let alone that integrate directly into the rest of the POS system.

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