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The Dark Side — Looming Threats for the Future of IT

The future may hold bad software, ever-more-dangerous security threats and a host of other causes for concern, say our panelists.

By Gary Anthes
March 7, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Our panel finds plenty to worry about, from the sometimes deplorable quality of commercial software to cybercrimes and an erosion of U.S. leadership in IT. Leading the list of concerns—perhaps because it's so troublesome today—is the software quality issue, with its evil triad of poor security, unreliability and complexity.

Easy, trouble-free use of IT has moved to the top of users' wish lists, some say. "It's not much use making the digital technology better, cheaper, faster; that's going to happen in any case," says economist W. Brian Arthur. "Computers are working about as fast as we need. The bottleneck is making it all usable."

Panel members rounded up the usual suspects. "The purveyors of this complex and unreliable software are the current big software vendors," says Network Services Co. CIO Michael H. Hugos. "We all deal with some of them on a daily basis, and everyone knows who they are, including the vendors themselves."

But a day of reckoning is coming for these vendors, Hugos and others predict. "There is a great pent-up demand for alternatives, and now, thanks to open-source software and commodity IT platforms, there are beginning to be industrial-strength alternatives to the products of the big software vendors," Hugos says.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell refuses to take the vendor-bashing lying down. Says Bell, "We are trying to address the product part of security and unreliability through the Trustworthy Computing initiative that Bill [Gates] launched almost five years ago. So far, it has impacted virtually every part of the company, ranging from the way it develops software to the product itself."

So, What Will Users Do?

Users historically have not insisted on performance guaranties and warranties from vendors, but the evil triad will propel them to do just that, some predict. "With enormous competitive pressures on profits, the smart customers will take their business to where they can get performance warranties and operating simplicity," says IT consultant Paul A. Strassmann.

Meta Group analyst Howard A. Rubin says that application service providers and other third parties will be better able to deal with issues of security and reliability because of their economies of scale, and they will be forced into offering guarantees. "Customers will start to measure software quality and the costs of poor quality and will write penalties into contracts," he says. "Product liability will start to have real legal teeth."

Meanwhile, end users will take matters into their own hands, says David Moschella, research director for CSC. Companies' employees are growing increasingly sophisticated in their use of IT, and they will no longer always look to corporate IT for help, he says. "Instead, they will look to the Internet and wireless worlds and will find an abundance of inexpensive and easy-to-use services. Over time, many of these offerings will be competitive and even superior to the offerings of corporate IT."

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