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Article by Mohan Babu


Is IT destined to be an ‘enabler’?

IT 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

It’s already 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.

Readers of 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.

Speaking of 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.

After a 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.

While 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.

(to be continued)




About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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