IT Anachronism

It just doesn't seem all that long ago that we technology journalists were writing about the "information superhighway." It seems impossible that it's been a full 11 years since I was talking about the route of that remarkable thoroughfare with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

It was January 1997, and I'd asked Ellison to reveal the dumbest business decision he'd made in the past two years.

"Probably not getting into the Internet soon enough," Ellison replied. "I guess Microsoft, Oracle, a lot of us were distracted by video-on-demand and the information superhighway. That obscured the importance of the Internet."

Back then, information superhighway was the gee-whiz term that we journalists applied to the Internet for the sake of catchier headlines and that the dot-com pioneers were using for the sake of a bubblier bubble. So Ellison's point was a valid one -- the inherent business value of the Internet was overshadowed by a wow factor that identified the Internet with information delivery rather than as a new approach to implementing information technology.

In those days, the Internet was an entity unto itself. I was working at the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld at the time, and I remember launching Cyber World (don't laugh -- that was cool stuff in the mid-'90s), a monthly supplement that covered the emergence of the Web, browsers, intranets, e-mail services and the like. By the time I left Hong Kong in early 2000, we had folded it simply because the Internet was so entrenched in IT and in business operations that it no longer made sense to position it as a separate coverage area.

It was a natural evolution, and one that was consistent with the way IT has evolved over time. But evolution is an emotional topic for a lot of people, as reader reaction to a story posted on our Web site last week demonstrates.

That story, which is what reminded me of the interview with Ellison all those years ago, is Julia King's piece "IT Career Paths You Never Dreamed Of."

The premise of the story is that IT job functions are changing, and that some forward-thinking companies are changing job titles and expectations to reflect that reality. For example, King reports that Computer Sciences Corp. is changing the way it places some of its IT workers within client companies, and that according to CSC CIO David McCue, the industry will "see new and made-up titles come about."

"The traditional IT department is beginning to morph into a series of individuals who are comfortable using technology and who know its inherent characteristics," he says. "They are becoming embedded into the businesses as technology mentors."

Similarly, Patti Dodgen, vice president at Mosaica Partners, stresses that technical skills alone don't cut it. "IT is no longer a subset specialty," Dodgen says. "IT is integrated into whatever work you're trying to get done."

King makes it clear that just as the Internet didn't disappear when it became embedded in IT and the business, changing titles and embedding the IT function in the business doesn't infer the disappearance of IT as a career path. Yet that wasn't enough to comfort some readers who were clearly angered by the article.

"More bean-counter BS," one reader fumed. "Again, wishful thinking on the part of business types [who] believe that all people can be morphed into some version of themselves. Never going to happen."

"Another in a long series of articles about the demise of the IT profession," wrote another, missing the point entirely. The IT profession isn't heading toward its demise. Rather, IT as a profession independent of the business is heading toward anachronism.

In any event, it's understandable that wrapping your head around what likely lies ahead is difficult, because it's tough for even the most successful among us. During that 1997 interview, I also asked Ellison what he considered to be his smartest decision in the past two years.

"I suppose the introduction of the NC -- network computer architecture," he replied.

Enough said.

Don Tennant is editorial director of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Contact him at don_tennant@computerworld.com, and visit his blog at http://blogs.computerworld.com/tennant.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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