Is IT destined
to be an ‘enabler’?
departments across the United States are increasingly being viewed more as
functional areas of business like finance or marketing, rather than being
confined to the ivory towers of Research & Development, writes Mohan Babu
two months into the New Year and in the event of it becoming apparent to the
industry titans and technocrats that this year is not going to be
substantially different from last year. Growth, if any, is going to be
marginal. Even though there are signs that the slowdown is thawing, we are
yet to see concrete signs of growth in the IT sector.
this column based in India frequently write to me asking about the state of
job market and opportunities in the US. Many readers still in colleges and
technical schools are also concerned about their future in the field of IT.
Even with the number of years I have spent in the field of technology, I do
not claim to possess a crystal ball, nor do I pretend to know more about the
field than my peers. However, as we move along the new millennium, one thing
is becoming clear—IT professionals are no longer being viewed as superheroes
whose every whim and fancy employers will bend over backwards to cater. They
are being viewed more as professionals who bring in portable experience and
skills. And, IT departments across the US are increasingly being viewed more
as functional areas of business like finance or marketing, rather than being
confined to the ivory towers of R&D. I am talking about “consumers” of
IT—companies ranging from Fortune 500 giants to smaller organisations whose
mainstay is not IT or even technology, although they extensively use
technologies to enable their businesses to function more smoothly. I am not
talking about software and services companies whose mainstay is IT since
they form a small percentage of the IT and software sector.
careers in IT, a comparison is in order. Perhaps the best comparison of a
career in IT could be to that of a career in finance. IT professionals, like
their peers in the field of finance, undergo years of training, formal
education and certifications. As I had mentioned earlier, just as a
financial department or group is essential to the running of a company, so
is an IT or systems department. A career in finance has matured enough that
there is hardly a huge imbalance in the demand and supply, hence there is
little premium being paid to finance professionals with “hot skills”. By the
same token, the dotcom burst has lead to equilibrium in the tech job market.
There are a number of people, even with the so-called “hot skills” who are
more than willing to take a pay cut in return for the some stability. Having
said that, just as “super financial wizards” in Wall Street or in the
investment-banking sector still draw huge paychecks, super programmers and
architects also draw a premium. Isn’t this true for any career, for that
matter? By this time, you are probably wondering what this analogy means to
you, an Indian IT professional.
decade of super hot growth, the IT sector around the world is taking a
breather. Business leaders around the world are realising that IT and
technology is merely an “enabler”, a cog in the wheel of business. This is a
sea change from the perception that IT systems provided the “core
competence” to regular (non-IT) businesses. This notion, coupled with an
abundance of newly laid off professionals is leading to the rethinking of
the IT priorities. Business leaders are also taking a closer look at their
systems. They are realising that if SAP and PeopleSoft, or Db2 and Oracle,
provide similar business advantages to their end users, they will choose one
over the other for one simple reason—a lower total-cost-of-ownership. Not
just the cost of software and licenses, but also the recurring costs in the
form of professional services required for maintaining and enhancing the
systems. Professionals betting their careers on one single technology taking
off are basically shooting in the dark, especially if they ignore other
technologies or opportunities that come their way.
As we roll
along the beginning of the 21st century, we are seeing the hype over “new
technologies” subsiding. Business leaders are taking a cold look at the
totality of value addition that their investments in technologies provide.
Just as managers of manufacturing companies are loath to replacing machines
and tools just because a newer model is in the market, IT managers are going
to resist moving to the “latest versions” of systems just because they are
available. Business justification and ROI (Return on Investment) is the new
mantra. Software professionals who can understand the real needs of
business, and talk the language of business i.e. those with a functional
knowledge of applications, along with grounding in technologies are going to
survive and thrive.
business leaders are focusing on the returns that IT systems can provide
them, IT leaders and technocrats are cautiously working on technological
innovations that will help business streamline their operations and help
them make money. Case in point: Web services is holding out promise of
unprecedented interoperability and is hoping to move into the mainstream
business sector this year. With the rare joint-muscle of IBM, Microsoft,
BEA, SUN and other biggies, this is perhaps a paradigm to watch.