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Software // Information Management

The Evolving Enterprise

Don't blame outsourcing for the transformation of the IT profession. It's time to adapt, or face obsolescence.

Ni3 men2 shi2 me1 shi2 hou4 ke3 yi3 wan2 cheng2 ruan3 ti3 chen2 shi4. This is the Mandarin transliteration (the numbers signify different sound tones) for "When will that program be complete?" In 2014, phrases such as this will be commonplace for enterprise IT professionals. I predict that in the next 10 years, enterprise IT will be transformed from an environment where anyone who could learn anything IT related in 21 days could be moderately successful to one where IT resources will be much more specialized, far fewer in number, and rarely need to write code.

Causes for Contraction

Before writing any angry letters to congress or editors in protest of losing our precious IT jobs, understand that this migration won't be due to the expanding pool of inexpensive development talent in the worldwide labor market alone. Instead, the underlying cause of this contraction will be due to the near completion of enterprise business process automation that technology has fostered in recent years. In short, by 2014, our businesses will be so streamlined with technology that opportunities for additional efficiencies will have greatly diminished returns.

Although the opportunities within business to use technology to increase productivity may seem numerous now, the following influences will greatly accelerate a company's ability to realize these opportunities over the next 10 years:

  • The effect of business process outsourcing (BPO). Currently, one of the struggles that business processes face is the 80/20 rule that's applied to automation. The best example that I've seen of this rule is a Manufacturing Facility for a Fortune 500 company in Chicago where an experimental, fully automated manufacturing line was created and installed. In this instance, it was more expensive to operate in a fully automated fashion vs. a mixture of human labor and automation.

    Today, IT enterprises spend a large portion of their time struggling to automate the most complex 20 percent of the components of our business processes. BPO is going to change that significantly. I foresee that entire business processes will be outsourced for a significant costs savings. The BPO vendors will then evaluate and implement any automation of those processes via technology that makes business sense with respect to their costs of labor and technology. Accordingly, the IT efforts to support the current business groups that perform these processes will no longer be needed.

  • Emergence of architectural best practices. Over the past 40 years, business systems have shifted from initially supporting few users via centralized architectures on mainframes to combination client/server-based paradigms with primarily business user clients to globally distributed architectures with multitudes of clients, including other systems. The ever-rising complexity of these systems has created the need for thought leaders on how to manage them.

    Through extensive and expensive trial-and-error processes, changes in these computing models have been followed slowly by the creation of standards and best practices that can be applied to varied problems in a heuristic fashion. Although complex, the repetitive nature of designing business systems will catalyze shifting these efforts to a labor pool that's the most cost competitive. Because many of the current architectural best practices are focused on reliable performance and scalability in today's distributed computing environment, Moore's law will further diminish the need for this expertise: Newer and cheaper hardware for solving performance problems will be considerably more cost effective as time goes by. Because it's difficult to imagine that our computing models will become significantly more complex, it will probably be many years- if ever - before the need for a great supply of architectural thought leaders will be reestablished.

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