More and more of the IT infrastructure that businesses rely on is being managed by third parties, and there are two reasons for this.
First, many IT departments are taking formal decisions to make more use of on-demand services. This ranges from the use of co-location data centres that house private infrastructure through to full blown software-as-a-service where the end users provide nothing but the access devices (and even these may be maintained by a specialist managed service provider).
Second, there is plenty of informal use of cloud-based services, being subscribed to directly from lines of business, often with little reference to the IT department.
In a research report published by Symantec, titled "Avoiding the hidden costs of the cloud" this is termed 'rogue IT'.
According to the survey, conducted among over 3,000 organisations in almost 30 countries, three quarters of organisations accept this is going on. The examples given include the sales manager who signs up for Salesforce without consulting IT, or marketing sharing launch materials with outsiders via a Dropbox account.
But this so-called 'rogue IT' is not a new phenomenon; a similar thing happened back in the 1980s with the rise of the mini-computer, which lines of business could buy direct, install under the desk and avoid the complex process of getting applications installed on the company mainframe.
The use of the term rogue IT suggests this is a bad thing and it may indeed lead to a loss of control of data if it is not policed. However, it also reflects the exasperation on the part of business that IT departments are failing to react fast enough to their needs.
There needs to be a meeting in the middle. The fact that decisions about making use of IT application are moving away from IT departments and back towards business users is surely a good thing.
Over time that is going to involve a wholesale change in the way IT departments utilise the skills of their staff. The balance needs to change, moving away from technical specialists to more business-savvy individuals, tasked with making sure that applications, however they are sourced, support the business processes of the organisations they work for and the management of data is secure and compliant and procurement is cost effective.
Those that doubt that this should be an imperative should look at the wastage of IT skills in end-user organisations that was exposed in a free report recently published by Quocirca, The wastage of human capital in IT operations. On average, businesses estimate they are using well under half of the skills that their IT staff have on a day-to-day basis and in most cases, this wastage is just accepted. This leads to de-motivated staff who will be looking for more fulfilling jobs, especially if the economy starts to pick up. And they will find them by turning to service providers.
The irony of this research is that IT managers admit that, if they were able to free up more of their staff's time, they would focus on two things; modernising their IT infrastructure and providing better applications to the business.
Both of these could more rapidly be achieved by turning to service providers anyway, further driving that need for less technical and more business focussed in-house skills.
To be clear, this does not mean that technically skilled IT engineers are going to find themselves out of work; it is just that the best jobs for them will be with service providers rather than end-user organisations.
Here, they will find their jobs more motivating as service providers have to achieve the goal of delivering better quality, more efficient IT services than end users organisations can achieve in-house, because their whole business model relies on this.
They will be more likely to use advanced automated management process, freeing engineers from mundane tasks to focus on more stimulating work.
Just as with the outsourcing of other business requirements, the service-provider-driven sourcing of IT needs access to reliable, high performance networks. However, it is not as if there is any other choice; as workers become more and more mobile and all organisations participate in network integrated business processes this is bound to be the case.
IT departments that continue to rely on fossilised applications running on creaking infrastructure that they are ill-equipped to manage will find themselves lagging further and further behind competitors that make more agile use of third party IT services.
For those seeking a career in IT, they will increasingly have two choices. Either a more technical role with service providers, helping to manage enterprise quality, massively scalable infrastructure that will underpin the majority of business IT needs in the long term; or a business focussed role in an end user organisation sourcing and integrating those services to best serve a given business.
Either way, IT will continue to offer a great career path for many aspiring young people for years to come.
Bob Tarzey is a director at user-facing analyst house Quocirca. As part of the Quocirca team, which focuses on technology and its business implications, Tarzey specialises in route to market for vendors, IT security, network computing, systems management and managed services.