Have we reached the end of the IT era?

Deborah Nelson, a Senior Vice President at Hewlett-Packard, thinks so. Historically, the technology department in an organization had been known as data processing (DP), and then management information systems (MIS), and now information technology (IT). Those labels pretty much reflected the stuff that was being managed, and they are are a testimony to the expanding role of technology in business in recent decades.

Nelson thinks that we have reached the next stage of development and that the IT era is over. She makes a compelling argument. The differences that she's talking about are definitely subtle, but that could be because we're already in the middle of the transition. 

In an interview with Dan Farber, Nelson says,

"We are now seeing technology running every aspect of business, taking orders, hiring employees, checking inventory, getting the latest news. You can't do it without technology. We need to think about technology and how to measure it in fundamentally different ways. Instead of hardware uptime, response times and service-level agreements, we need to measure in terms of the business outcomes they achieve, such as how fast to profit for [a] new store or to deploy a new financial service. We [at HP] view this new phase as 'Business Technology.'"

So, what Nelson is saying, if I understand correctly, is that IT is transitioning from a stand-alone department to an integral component of every department and every business strategy. As such, technology considerations need to play a larger part of the company strategy at the front end of the decision-making process. 

"It’s definitely an evolution and an emerging trend... The vast majority of budgets are 70 to 90 percent tied up in maintenance and operations," she said. "We have to think about technology and competitive advantage, not just keeping the lights on. We want customers to feel this urgency–it's strategic, and not a cost reduction concept, but a way to help IT deliver better business outcomes."

That's easier said than done — the role of the CIO has been shrinking in recent years — and whether or not technology teams become a greater force in strategic decision-making will be a true measure of whether the plans of Nelson and HP are successful. But whether "Business Technology" ultimately gets adopted as the term for this new reality isn't as important as the fact that Nelson has put her finger on a changing view of technology in business that is already in motion and will likely require a shift in thinking for many technology professionals. This shift could also have important implications in the debate over a centralized vs. decentralized IT department (which I also talked about yesterday). 

Just for fun, I'll comment on the name "Business Technology." I think it's too narrow. Currently, "Information Technology" works not only for businesses but also for governments and non-profit organizations. So, if you want to go down that road, a better name would be "Organizational Technology" (OT). Other alternatives that could fit would be "Technology Implementation" (TI) or "Technology Management" (TM) since those are descriptive of what professionals in this field do. 

Do you believe that we're at the end of the IT era? Is "Business Technology" the right term for the next stage? What term would you prefer? Join the discussion


Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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