A sneak preview of enterprise IT in 2020

What will the world of IT professionals be like 10 years from now? Computerworld has a special report on that coming up Aug. 23. While I don't want to steal its thunder, I think it's fair to say the special report will suggest dramatic changes are in store for the IT department -- in part because of the advent of cloud computing and in part because of the immersion of IT in the business.

Conventional wisdom is that corporate IT departments will remain pretty much the same but they just need to get cozier with the business.

But an equally plausible scenario is that the traditional IT department will fade away, with parts of it subsumed by an internal "shared services" unit and parts of it outsourced to external service providers (including cloud service providers).

The latter is pretty much the scenario painted by the Corporate Executive Board's Information Technology Practice. I have the executive summary to their report, "The Future of Corporate IT: How to Prepare for Five Radical Shifts in IT Value, Ownership, and Role." A few quotes from the report make for some thought-provoking reading:

As IT roles migrate to business services, evolve into business roles, or are externalized, the scope of the IT function will diminish and its headcount [will] fall by 75% or more.

Strategy, architecture, risk, program management, user support, and relationship management will exist at the business services level, not within the IT function. The CIO position will [either] expand to lead this broader group or shrink to manage technology procurement and integration.

Wow. Ready for that wild ride? You can view this either as an exhilarating challenge, or a career-ending disaster. Your call. Even if you totally disagree with the CEB's scenario, it seems inescapable that IT services are becoming business services.

Today, CIOs toss out the cliché "there are no IT projects, only business projects" as though it's a dramatic, revolutionary statement. Somewhere in the period 2015-2020, that revolution will be over, if it isn't already.

As we look ahead to the future of enterprise IT we find that it's inextricably tied up with the future of business. So it only stands to reason that whatever big trends affect the business will have ramifications for IT. Let's take a look at a few of those business megatrends and their IT implications:

Business trend: Big businesses will get bigger. Small businesses will survive. And mid-sized businesses will be squeezed out. Expect more mergers and acquisitions. IT implications: IT professionals will work for either very big companies or very small ones. And IT vendors will be either giants or boutiques.

Business trend: Government regulations will take up a growing portion of management's time and effort. IT implications: Even more IT work will be devoted to regulatory compliance and audits.

Business trend: Consumers will expect "social responsibility" from companies they do business with. IT implications: IT professionals will need to help their employers meet consumer expectations for ethical behavior, honest accounting, privacy safeguards and green IT.

Business trend: The product design and marketing cycle -- from the time a product is invented to the time it's imitated -- is shrinking rapidly. IT implications: IT shops, which are increasingly involved in new-product development, will need to help the company get products to market at warp speed.

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Sources: Business trends adapted from a report by Forecasting International Ltd., excerpted in The Futurist magazine (July-August 2010). IT implications by Mitch Betts.

And those are just the general business trends. You also need to look ahead to the future of your vertical industry (e.g., insurance, health care) and brainstorm where IT could add the most value in the coming decade. Maybe you should take a strategic planner or futurist out to lunch to find out what's on their radar screens.

While I've got you thinking about the future of IT, I'll offer up a few of my predictions to see if they trigger any ideas of your own.

Five predictions for 2020:

  1. A major catastrophe (leading to loss of life) will be caused by a software defect, highlighting the fragility of our complex, software-based systems.
  2. Social/collaborative networks (similar to Facebook and Twitter) will be adopted within corporations and their use will become so commonplace that the term social networking will fade away. The technology will weaken the hierarchical chain of command -- because anyone can communicate with anyone one else across the organization -- and some people will get fired because of indiscretions.
  3. Tablets (like iPads) will replace three-ring binders for one-on-one sales and marketing presentations. (They're portable, intimate, colorful, can show videos and boot up fast.)
  4. Environmental activists (e.g., Greenpeace) will increasingly make data center energy usage an issue in protests, political arenas and shareholder resolutions.
  5. Market intelligence gleaned from customers chatting on social networks will be integrated with other CRM information to create very robust dossiers on customers. The call-center rep may know that the customer she's chatting with recently tweeted about the company's service.

I hope you're preparing your IT department, your company -- and your career -- for developments like these.

Let me know, in the comments section below, what you think corporate IT will be like in 2020.

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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