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The Evolving Enterprise

Don't blame outsourcing for the transformation of the IT profession. It's time to adapt, or face obsolescence.
  • The service- and component-based computing models will increase the economies of scale of software packages. The days of evaluating, customizing, and maintaining large-scale business systems are numbered. Software will be much more modular, standardized, easier to manage, and smart enough to find and associate with other available services to perform a task. This modularity will rapidly reduce the time to implement and subsequently customize software packages to support businesses. Furthermore, the need for replacing and upgrading these packages will diminish as, similar to many mature software products, they become feature saturated. Upgrades will be less desirable. In short, the implementation of technology will be streamlined by technology itself.

  • Proliferation of computer programming knowledge and support tools. I agree with a naysayer who can find situations where cranking code in the United States will still be necessary, but I'd caution that automated tools and cultural change will keep these tasks to a dismal minimum. Don't be surprised if Bob in marketing - who requires his assistant to print out his email - wants to use Excel to solve every computing problem. Even if he now keeps you busy writing data extract and analysis programs, he'll probably be able to cut you out of the loop in 10 years. With the interest in computer programming growing and the learning curve continuing to flatten out, basic computer programming skills will be as prevalent in the business environment of the future as typing is today. I'm not saying that business users will be developing enterprise systems, but their reliance on separate IT groups for technology assistance will rapidly decline. In the rare instances that your skill set as a developer might be called upon, thanks to generative programming tools, frameworks, open source code, and advancements in computer languages, completing tasks now thought of as large scale will be elemental, allowing businesses to accomplish these tasks with fewer resources.

    What You Can Do to Adapt and Be Needed

    Faced with this impending doom and being too young to retire, we must understand what needs the future will hold so that we can become better skilled in these areas. These are the careers that I see prospering 10 years from now:

    • Business Technology Evangelist. As the needs for automation to cut the bottom line disappear, what will rise in importance is the ability to cultivate opportunities to use technology to improve top-line revenue. Someone in this role will need to possess ingenuity and creativity as well as highly developed business acumen. This person must monitor new technology trends and envision how trends can reduce barriers for entering new markets, expand market share, or grow sales. Finally, the evangelist must be able to convince others of the merits of this vision. Those in this role will have their IT mission transformed from determining "how" something can be accomplished via technology and instead prioritize the "what," "when" and "why" in using technology to drive business.

    • The "Algorithms" Officer. According to Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos, the algorithms officer is one of the key positions within Amazon.com. Formulating new software algorithms to improve Amazon's business is his charter. A strong complement to the business technology evangelists, this person will find innovative and creative ways to transform data into intelligence, construct predictive models, and determine strategic ways and means to better use information. This role will be privy to too many valuable trade secrets to ever be outsourced.

    • The Diplomat. These roles will be filled by the culturally savvy who are left behind to manage and maintain the enterprise IT of 2014. Diplomats will require more political skills than technical ones as they will be chartered with coordinating multiple outsourcers, services vendors, and in-house business personnel. Cultural savvy, communication skills, and language skills (as you can see, I'm working on mine) will be paramount to success in this role.

    • The Jack-of-All-IT Trades. If you're still interested in having responsibilities similar to what you have now, your best bet is to find a small or midsized business and become its IT utility player. Smaller businesses will have fewer opportunities to tap outsourcing for economies of scale and will strive to catch up to their enterprise competitors in terms of utilizing IT effectively. However, broad knowledge and abilities will be the key to your success.

    For those of us who aren't going to be looking to hang up our keyboards quite yet and are willing to adapt to increase our business understanding, hone our creative problem-solving skills, become more culturally savvy, or broaden our skills to target smaller businesses, the opportunities seem exciting. To those of you who are up for the challenges that lay ahead, I "zhu4 nin2 hao3 yun4." (Wish you good luck!)

    Robert Northrop is a director of design and development with Tallan, a professional services company specializing in developing custom technology solutions for its clients.