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Business Technology: Let's Remake Future, Not Relive The Past

I grew up in a small industrial city in western Pennsylvania some 40 years ago. Many thousands of men and some women worked in the plants and factories there that churned out rolled steel, pipe, tubing, transformers, specialty copper, and more. At the end of the high-school year, my older brothers could walk down to the mills and get high-paying jobs for the summer. The local radio station had a program around 3:30 every afternoon called "The Factory Whistle" that more than 10,000 workers listened to on their drives home. Grocery stores restocked their shelves on Friday mornings because paychecks arrived home Friday afternoons. The pervasiveness of those jobs and their interrelationships with the lives of everyone in the surrounding community--the interwoven fabric created by those steady, essential, vital jobs--was something we took as normal, natural, and unchanging.

And then those jobs began to disappear--slowly at first, and then with a suddenness that in hindsight is hard to imagine. From just that one small city, 15,000 jobs disappeared. Forever. In some cases, the work moved to specialty mills or to lower-cost foreign producers; in others, the demand for the types of steel and other products that those plants were superb at making suddenly changed, and the mills were hopelessly unable to adapt and evolve as quickly as the markets they served. We had perfected our past but were woefully unprepared to create our future.

In that context, what I'm about to say could well anger and perhaps even alienate some people very near and dear to InformationWeek, but it needs to be said because it is the truth. For a variety of reasons, many parts of the IT industry--and along with them, tens of thousands of jobs--as we have known them are disappearing, and they will not return. Lots of work in applications development, programming, call centers, integration, operations, and other jobs requiring skilled technologists are leaving or have left this country, and they're never coming back. What, then, is to be done?

Well, we can seek regulatory relief or legislative intervention or tariff strategies or lawsuits, but they're all a waste of time. Because buyers will seek the highest quality at the lowest price, and some producers in other countries have clearly demonstrated that for some projects, they can match the quality of our software and services while also beating us--badly--on price. Not surprisingly, the global market is rewarding those other countries for that.

So no, this challenge isn't about legislation or taxation or regulation--it's about innovation and forward thinking and the courage to change. Not just knee-jerk change in reaction to what someone else is doing and that is patterned after the past but, rather, forward-looking change that helps to create the future in which companies are truly connected in real time with their customers through the power of new types of software that today are merely prototypes, in which business-technology workers become businesspeople with indispensable technical prowess, in which IT professionals judge themselves not by technical certifications but rather by how relevant and valuable they make themselves--constantly--for their employers and customers, in which business technologists make possible today what couldn't be done yesterday, and in which CEOs and CIOs aggressively lead the transformation of their phenomenal business-technology organizations from keepers of the old central flame to lighters of new fires of revenue opportunity, market insight, industry knowledge, customer value, and optimized business processes.

We cannot recapture the past, but we can surely make the future. And the time to start is now.

Bob Evans
Editor in Chief

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Bob Evans's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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