Four Big Trends Changing the IT World

Friday Feb 9th 2007 by James Maguire
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Given technology’s rapid pace of change, it’s imperative to understand the megatrends that are impacting IT.

Change can be horribly uncomfortable, or it can be a welcome shift, but in the IT world that’s beside the point. Large, global trends morph and vary at regular (or irregular) intervals, disrupting everything in their path – without regard to the comfort level of participants.

Keeping up with it all requires an understanding of the tectonic shifts, the megatrends, that are affecting enterprise technology. There are at least four megatrends affecting IT, as identified by Gartner analyst Diane Morello, who has written about current and future directions in IT.

These major trends shouldn’t be seen as problems. “The four factors are not all threats – they’re huge opportunities, too,” Morello says. But turning them from negatives to positives requires awareness, and, even more, willingness to move proactively toward change rather than being swept passively along.

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Here are four key trends altering the face of enterprise technology:

Global Sourcing

The extent to which IT services are bought and sold on a globalized market – not confined to any one country or even one region – can hardly be overestimated. The typical IT deal of the future will, for example, be an alliance between Malaysian, American and German IT vendors, all working on an outsourced project based in Canada. (In fact such a deal is probably taking place today.)

Already, global sourcing has progressed to the point that the unthinkable is happening: Indian IT employers are being forced to raise wages. Even Asia, once seen as a boundless source of cheap tech labor, is now squeezed.

This salary squeeze in India is the byproduct of a global hunt for IT talent that has no foreseeable end. “The same thing will be moving through the rest of the world at some point,” Morello says.

The temporary advantage that one location has over another in terms of low-cost labor tends to balance out over time because the world’s supply of tech talent is huge, yet ultimately finite.

IT Automation

The dream of automation is that everything would be easier, but in truth it has both an upside and a downside.

The upside to automation is that, by freeing people of their grunt work, it enables them to examine problems at a higher conceptual level.

Automation is exerting an influence across many areas of IT. Business process modeling, for instance, automates a significant amount of the thought process that has occupied certain tech professionals. Automation also impacts testing and coding, even human resources. “Many of the recruitment tools that are out there actually replace some of the manual labor that was involved in recruitment,” Morello says.

Automation, of course, doesn’t (and can’t ever) remove the importance of human analysis. “But it certainly does do a lot to smooth out some of the things that might have been manually drawn or pieced together.”

Yet automation also offers a challenge. “It puts a huge strategic challenge on to whether or not the organization is prepared to focus on the higher level things that become visible now that automation has taken away some of the lower-level tasks.”

Consumer IT

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Enterprises are seeing a quantum jump in the number of consumer tech devices that employees carry to work everyday. Plenty of companies view this change warily.

“How many IT organizations do you know that are still looking to prevent the entry of consumer technology in how they lead and drive the use of technology within their companies? – a huge percentage,” Morello says. The big fear for many companies is that these devices represent a security threat, and in general lack the controllability that corporations crave.

Yes this is a self-defeating strategy within companies. “Any organization that believes that it can quell or reduce or eliminate the consumer behavior and consumer technology that [employees] can afford and use is unreasonable,” she says.

In reality, “Consumer technology brings in a whole new way that people can start to identify how corporations provide information to their employees.”

Business Reconfiguration

Outsourcing. Partnerships. Consolidation. Expansion. Mergers and acquisitions. IT companies morph and change as often as some organisms inhale oxygen.

Notes Morello: “What you will not see is a period of guaranteed stability.” No indeed. Business reconfiguration isn’t likely to lessen anytime soon.

This doesn’t mean that top talent will change employers as often as players in a game of musical chairs (though it sometimes seems that way). But it does mean that companies need to evolve toward a culture that is comfortable with change.

Whether this change is accomplished by creating a flexible roadmap, or stressing constant learning, isn’t the point. There are several ways to encode flexibility into the corporate culture.

The point is that this move toward adapting to ceaseless evolution must take place. If not, “All of this reconfiguration leaves many people – including and perhaps mostly – managers, really poorly positioned to figure out what they can be doing,” Morello says.

In short, “the organization’s processes, principles and practices need to be defined for flexibility as opposed to the status quo.”

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