Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Dissolution of IT

This post is based on one of the half dozen white papers I've written in my career which were too "out there" to be published. I wrote this one in 2007 about the time I left Diamond Management & Technology Consultants for what became a failed financial services SaaS startup. You have been forwarned!

In 2004 I went through the IBM certification process for Enterprise Architecture emerging as a certified Senior Enterprise Architect. Starting in 2001 I was pushing my architecture envelope to understand as much as I could about the business. I started questioning my mentor father about his experiences including his 30+ year history in Supply Chain Management. I started learning everything I could about cool sounding ERP processes: order to cash, quote to cash, and procure to pay. As I pushed my boundaries I found companies were doing the same; assigning senior business analysts as the liaisons to IT. I worked with many in partnership asking them to teach me about the business while I would deepen their understanding of IT. Each of these business experts I found had a common trait: all had an IT background.

As I applied my business knowledge I started getting accolades from clients about the robustness of my knowledge of their business. In project after project I became the lead business process architect as my approach and requirement to diagram everything helped senior leaders identify inefficiencies and opportunities. It was this experience combined with the revelation that my business partners all had IT backgrounds that I realized the end of IT was coming!

Not following? My hypothesis is that as we digitize businesses the people within IT, by necessity, become acutely aware of the ins and outs of a business process. As their job responsibilities grow they naturally become aware of the ins and outs of other business processes and the integration of how processes work together. They live the reality of the interconnectedness of business processes and their automation gaining an education on both sides simultaneously. By comparison their business colleagues gain additional depth on the business side but are largely shielded from the technology. As the pace of business continues to quicken, as it has throughout time, depth becomes less important giving way to breadth (i.e. a company needs fewer specialists but they are still needed, and more generalists). As if guided by Darwinian evolution, IT analysts are becoming the experts on the business as well as the technology used for its automation.

Companies are slowing realizing this largely untapped natural resource and have begun moving IT people out into the business vs the trend ten years ago to move business people into IT (which was necessary and a good thing). Therefore my prediction, if my hypothesis is correct, is that IT will slowly dissolve back into the businesses as the level of knowledge about technology takes a revolutionary step forward in a short period of time. The end result is an IT that is largely fungible between internal and external expertise. And cloud computing will help expedite this changeover through its concentration on automation.

IT will continue to exist, but its form will change dramatically! All the strategic planning and architecture will be done in what we now call "the business" and design, implementation, operations and program management services will be used (whether internal or outsourced) to execute on the plan. The CIO of today will become the COO of tomorrow and the CTO of today will be focused on one or more of the services and very likely will not be an employee. If I had to lay all of my cards on the table I'd argue the new role of consulting will be that CTO role and management of the services which will be executed by the traditional systems integrators.

If I'm correct, things to keep in mind include:
  1. Vertical domain expertise will be required for those in IT who want to be on the forefront of the revolution
  2. As a revolution I believe the critical mass will be reached rapidly and therefore believe the change will occur over the next 8-10yrs
  3. Cloud computing will help drive this change
  4. A natural synergy is the decoupling of internal technical expertise from its application which has hindered companies for decades from making great leaps
  5. Legacy systems will not hinder the revolution because they're already in the mix due to the issues of cost, complexity and compliance
  6. Demographic challenges in finding qualified people will drive the consolidation of positions that used to be split between the business and IT
  7. Companies who get it right will benefit so tremendously they'll never turn back
  8. The shift is already underway!

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