Decade in review: Reflections on the last 10 years in the tech industry

As we enter a new decade, some thoughts on the evolution of technology leadership over the last 10 years.

2020 past circle #3

Image: Oakozhan, Getty Images/iStockphoto

As the calendar turns to 2020, like many of you, I can't help but pause and reflect on the last decade. I flipped back through my digital files, somewhat amazed to discover I penned my first article for TechRepublic back in the summer of 2008, and read several of those posts in an attempt to understand how the IT profession and those of us who lead it have evolved. 

Some of the big themes, like innovation and diversity, are still with us, while others like "alignment" have thankfully faded from the vernacular. Technologies like cloud, for which I had some skepticism as a technology but great excitement about as a tool for streamlining IT, have gone from novelty to the standard approach for deploying infrastructure. Looking back over the past decade, here are some of the broad trends that have changed, and stayed the same, as we enter 2020.

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Services are finally the standard

A decade ago, the idea that you could build your entire corporate technology stack around services--reusable software components that could be readily integrated with other components--wasn't new. It was, however, more of an ambition than reality at most organizations. Large software companies talked about integration, but in reality it was still difficult and costly. With cloud computing reigning supreme, and most software delivered via a web interface and largely device-agnostic, services and APIs are finally the standard way to deliver IT for many organizations. 

We're still quite a way from the long-desired nirvana of allowing average users to string together software components to create ad-hoc business applications in a matter of hours rather than weeks, but this concept has initially left the world of the theoretical and entered reality.

IT has finally become "normal" at most organizations, but it's bifurcating

Perhaps the biggest topic for IT leaders a decade ago was the concept of "alignment": that IT leaders were essentially out of touch with their peers in their companies and needed to constantly fight for a seat at the leadership table. I've long contended that any IT leader worrying about alignment, or talking about the business as if it were a mythical entity rarely seen and even less understood, was likely not viewed as a peer or high-value player by his or her peers, and thankfully these issues seem less prevalent.

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Technology has irreversibly gone from the sole province of the back office to a key element of most organizations' products and services, and oftentimes a strategic and competitive differentiator. This transition is furthering a trend from earlier in the decade, whereby technology in some organizations was splitting between core "keep the lights on" services in the back office, and technologies that powered products and transformational initiatives. In extreme cases, the CIO has become a utility player while other functions like marketing or product development get the preponderance of a company's technology spend. On the other extreme are CIOs who have become brokers of technology services that power marketing, product development, and digital transformation while pushing management of back-office systems to staff or an external vendor.

As back-office systems increasingly become commodities that can be purchased from a cloud vendor, it appears that the operationally oriented CIO will become increasingly less important and disappear from the executive ranks at many companies. Conversely, IT leaders who deliver new platforms that power products and services will grow increasingly important. As you reflect on your career and the new decade, decide how you want to align yourself and career.

Connectivity and devices have finally become personal

A decade ago mobile computing was a hot topic, with everything from the arrival of the iPad to questions around whether companies would, or should, allow upstart iOS devices onto their network versus the then-ubiquitous BlackBerry. WiFi was nearly universal, and mobile networks were just getting the coverage and speed to allow for everything from remote work to early Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Fierce debates still raged about the superiority of Mac OS versus Windows, or whether Windows Mobile or Android would beat iOS, and whether and how IT leaders should mandate standards for mobile devices.

After a decade, it seems we've finally managed to put "personal" back into "personal computing," and even my employer, a century-old, conservative accounting firm, allows end users a wide choice of smartphones and computers running multiple different mobile and desktop operating systems. With universal connectivity from coffee shops to airplanes, it's no problem for me to review a document live on my iPhone on a plane, with a colleague adding content on her Mac, while an analyst proofs our work on his Windows desktop. What was once miraculous and difficult is now routine, to the point that I wonder whether there's another revolution in personal computing that we'll see in the next decade, or we'll continue to see incremental improvements but remain largely married to our mobile devices and laptops.

Where will we go from here?

It's certainly been an exciting decade for IT leaders, as technology has continued to evolve, and so, too, has the role of the CIO in most organizations, largely for the better. I hope that the next decade continues to bring excitement and growth to your career as an IT leader.

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