It's an amazing time to be in the IT industry, as we're witnessing a seismic shift the likes of which rival the move to connected computing inspired by the Internet in the late 1990s. While the Internet had near-universal appeal to IT workers, this next shift has raised some eyebrows.
Increasingly, working in IT is becoming less about technical skills and more about integration. Whereas in decades past your key players in most IT departments were the exceptional developers, key roles are increasingly filled by those who can best integrate readily available components. Even software development has moved in this direction, with the most capable developers being the ones who can creatively write the "glue" that leverages existing libraries, connects to external services, and delivers a new experience in weeks that would take months or years to develop from scratch.
Arguably, this is the direction in which computing has been going for years, from the first shared libraries and software development toolkits. However, we've only recently shifted from the days of proprietary and costly libraries to open APIs, with a breadth and depth that would have been unfathomable a decade ago. On the software development front, anyone with an internet connection and web browser can tap into everything from freely available open-source development environments to cloud-based storage and processing power that offers more capability and capacity than most Fortune 500 IT environments. Each new application that leverages these tools seems to adopt the philosophy of the major cloud providers, offering low-cost APIs that further the innovation cycle by allowing a new tool to tap into each subsequent technical evolution.
What does this trend mean for IT?
The term "enterprise architect" has become a bit hackneyed, but the analogy is a good one. An architect may not be the best person to swing a hammer, but does have a good idea of modern materials, construction techniques, and vendors who can execute their vision. They also bring knowledge of broad regional and industry styles and trends to bear. While there are still roles requiring deep technical experience, for most corporate IT workers their role will shift from implementation to architecting.
For IT leadership, this fundamental shift in the industry means several things. First and foremost, IT leaders must help their staff manage the transition to this new world. Traditionally, IT leaders have struggled with what they consider HR issues best left to the professionals, but your staff are going to require new skills, modes of thinking, performance monitoring, and rewards structures. Essentially, facilitating your staffs' transition is simply too important to leave to HR.
Similarly, the change will require IT leaders to shift from proposing and delivering large-scale implementation and infrastructure project, to closely collaborating on unfamiliar turf from purchasing to legal, as outside parties increasingly host critical pieces of your technology infrastructure. Old vendor relationships may no longer be as critical, and you might end up dealing with anyone from Amazon to Apple, players who only recently began to play in the enterprise space.
It may be tempting to lament the loss of the past world, where the strongest coders and most knowledgeable technicians ruled the IT roost, especially if you're an IT worker or leader struggling to come to terms with this new world. What I find most exciting is the opportunity this transition represents to revitalize our industry. No longer are the cutting edge tools restricted to the domain of massive companies with eight-figure budgets. Now that someone sitting at their kitchen table can access the latest and most powerful technologies at commodity prices, we're in for a period of innovation the likes of which we haven't seen since the heady days of the dot-com era.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.