IT Consumerization: The End of IT is Nigh!

If you manage an IT or technology department, you’ve probably heard about the coming ‘consumerization of IT’ and how it will rock our world. The cloud will allow every Tom, Dick and Marketing guy with a MailChimp account to bypass IT completely and do who-knows-what to the rock-solid infrastructure that IT’s spent years building. The end of IT: sounds scary, we know.

The end of IT is nigh!But what does it really mean? Will finance VPs really take the reigns of your infrastructure? Is IT really about to lose control of your company’s technology? To answer those questions, we have to start by looking at the way things work today.

Right now, whether or not it seems to, your IT department rules with an iron fist. Sure you get your hands tied by finance from time to time. But, for the most part, the rest of the company doesn’t understand how you do what you do, and so they hand you requirements and you get to decide the rest.
And why not? Why would any business analyst or sales person have a clue about n-tier architecture or the benefits of one programming language over another? Indeed, those non-techs should feel lucky that they have such knowledgeable IT professionals to show them the way. Right?

The reality is that the rest of the company only wants things to work, and they deal with IT because they have to. IT’s the only game in town. In essence, there are only around five reasons they deal with IT at all:

  1. Buy-in: When it goes wrong they’re going to call IT, i.e. they need your help.
  2. Skills: They’re going to expect IT to fix whatever went wrong, so IT better knows how it works as well as having the right types of people available to help, and quickly. Don’t expect a Java shop to be able to fix a Rails system or a software engineer to defrag your NetApp.
  3. It’s Really Hard: IT is going need some skilled people around to keep your stuff working. These people are hard to find and they can work on pretty much any technical project they like. So having the business cram them down on how to do it is usually a bad idea in the long run if they want to keep the best people.
  4. Capex is Precious: Errors allocating capital spending are very expensive and time consuming to rectify. That Oracle cluster IT bought for Project X is probably not going to plug right into the new Project Y next year without a lot of time, money and effort.
  5. Compliance/Security: It’s a Really Big Deal if data is compromised, damaged, lost or otherwise mishandled (e.g. geographic compliance laws). IT had better have some experts on thier team or that list of credit card numbers will be out the door in no time.

Gulp. That was a pretty scary list to even write. But now run through that list again, but this time add your favorite cloud service(s) to the mix:

  1. Buy-in: Who ya gonna call when there’s a problem? Not IT. They are going to call their cloud vendor.
  2. Skills: How do they rate the cloud vendor’s ability to build and support what you’re buying? And how hard would it be to move to a different vendor when it goes wrong?
  3. Difficulty: How many staff would IT need to hire to do the work? And if these people had a choice of working for the cloud vendor or your IT department, who would they pick? What’s the chance of succeeding in your objective?
  4. Capex: How much capex is required? How hard will it be to switch if this isn’t the right choice?
  5. Compliance & Security: How do they rate the vendor’s ability to keep your data safe & legal? Is your internal group ‘better’?

Run Google or Salesforce through this list and you’ll immediately see why they’ve made such great inroads into businesses over the past 5 years.

Now, forget for a second about how many other cloud vendors outside the big ones can’t yet meet these criteria. All that’s important is that the list of those who can is growing rapidly every day and is only going to get longer and longer. At some point asking questions like “yeah, but are they going to be here in a year?” or “are they compliant?” isn’t going to be sufficient to win the argument. Some people will tell you that time has already come.

So, what’s an IT guy to do about all this? How do you stop the business from running off a cliff? More importantly, how can you add value between now and your inevitable assimilation into the giant planet wide computer formerly known as The Cloud? What can you do in the face of the potential end of IT?

Well first, take a deep breath. The vast majority of successful thriving businesses will have a significant existing investment in working infrastructure and that stuff’s not going away any time soon. We love Forrester’s take on this at Cloud Connect 2012 this year (watch here if you haven’t heard it.)

This means you’ve got anywhere from 3 to 7 years before your business becomes predominantly cloud based. We think you can add a lot of value by making this closer to 3 years than 7 years. Here’s our checklist:

  1. Lead: Become the guiding light for your business on the Cloud. It’s a fast moving place up there. Pick some champions, products you think are world-beaters. Help your company understand what’s going on, strategically and tactically.
  2. Embrace Change: Don’t see the Cloud as a threat heralding the end of IT; get stuck in. Become the guru and help your business adapt your favorite products as rapidly and widely as possible. You’ve got 3-5 years to retrain. The sooner you start the more value you’ll add, to your employer and yourself.
  3. Be Fanatical About Compliance: Be the watchdog for best practice. Keep your businesses away from fly-by-night operators that are inevitably bubbling up, looking only to make a quick buck and to hell with your data/service levels/users. Become experts on data compliance laws: it wasn’t possible for your Irish office to setup a data store in Singapore until the Cloud came along. You’ll be surprised to learn what happens when you screw up on global data compliance.
  4. Let Normal Business Resume: for years even the best IT groups have been seen as a gate for business. Rarely properly resourced, you’ve made them wait, made over- and under-spending decisions, and driven sub-optimal business decisions as a necessary evil to getting the technical job done. Those days will be over soon. Let finance manage the costs, not you. Let the business pick their tools, just be there to help them pick the right ones.
  5. Pick your Battles: Long after people stop using the word the ‘Cloud’ when it becomes normal (just like we don’t talk about micro or personal computers or the world-wide web any more) there will still be a massive demand for technical folks who understand how data flows and how to express a process in a series of steps. You just won’t need to worry so much about ops. The heavy lifting will be done by the same group of people who today write assembly code or design microchips: super specialized professionals who are working for the cloud vendors. Meantime, you will be helping your business make sense of world with infinitely more data and vastly more complex webs of data interchanges. What before was an interesting business development lunch will now result in a permanent exchange of data between two companies. This will be infinitely more valuable than learning the best way to install Ubuntu.

As ever, you do have options. This isn’t really the end of IT. There’s a ton of money to be made in sticking with the old ways of doing things. Anyone around during Y2K will remember the incredible hourly rates COBOL and mainframe consultants made. And many of those systems are still around today, because they work just fine.

Please whatever you do don’t stay behind out of fear or inaction. Most of us aren’t as good as my friend was. We’re fast learners, like new stuff and understand how to add value in new ways every day. But you have to be a special talent to earn 3x your old salary by working half as much.

For the rest of us, embrace the future and everything will be okay. That much I’m sure of.