Time for IT to break free from the nerd instinct

Editor's Notebook: Tech marketing is growing up - but can the IT crowd follow suit?

Has technology marketing matured faster than the IT department, asks silicon.com editor Steve Ranger.

For decades the IT industry has emphasised the complexity of products to stoke the nerd elitism too often found in tech departments.

You know the kind of thing: the stuff that leaves software engineers pouring over spec sheets of new products and thinking: "Wow, this is even more complicated than my Star Fleet Technical Manual."

For the techies, keeping stuff complicated has been an attempt at job security through obscurity. If the boss doesn't understand the stuff you buy or what it is you do - so the thinking goes - how can you ever be fired?

I'd suggest this mindset also reflects the uncertainty of some IT staff. Because they themselves aren't actually sure of the benefit they offer the business, they cover up that fear with talk of gigaquads of storage and other such techno-babble.

But the marketing might of the IT industry has been happy to reinforce this thinking, and even pander to it.

Unfortunately, marketing that emphasises how insanely complicated technology is has the knock-on effect of making these self-appointed high priests of technology even more remote from the businesses that they are supposedly trying to support.

That approach actually makes it harder for the IT industry to convey what the real point should be - that technology can make organisations smarter, faster and more successful.

And the end result, alas, is an IT department obsessed with obscure benchmarks and revelling in how clever they are - while the rest of the organisation ignores them. And that attempt to keep jobs safe by making IT as obscure as possible? That has simply led to outsourcing and offshoring of tech roles as companies try to rid themselves of the "problem" of IT.

It's time to reduce the complexity of the average IT estate

It's time to reduce the complexity of the average IT estate (Image credit: Shutterstock)

But it's possible - just possible - that the attitude of the IT industry is beginning to change. Cloud computing is the most obvious manifestation of that - computing power with the hardware and software entirely and explicitly hidden from view.

But it's not just cloud computing. I was in San Francisco last week, meeting some of the biggest and most interesting hardware and software companies and the message from many of them was the same: that simplicity is good, and that unnecessary complexity and obscurity is no longer to be praised.

Sure, technology is complicated, because it needs to do very clever things, very fast. But the emphasis should always be on the benefits of doing these very clever things, very fast, not simply the ability to do them. For too long the industry has ignored that fact.

It might be that this change of approach is a reaction to the tightening of budgets and tech suppliers selling the benefits of technology to the board, who are indifferent to the techno wow-factor, instead of the tech team. It might be a reaction to the simplicity offered by the cloud model. And it might be recognition that fuelling a feeds-and-speeds culture doesn't do their customers much good either.

But whatever the reason, it's a welcome change, and one that IT departments should take to heart, and quickly.

Steve Ranger is editor of silicon.com. You can find more of his Editor's Notebook columns here, and follow him on twitter at twitter.com/steveranger