Everything old is new again!

19/4/2014 4-minute read

It is always interesting to see new trends in IT departments trying to do a better job serving the businesses they are a part of.

Various new, or not-so-new, ideas arise from time to time - the goal being to enable an IT organisation to be more relevant, deliver more value, be more agile, deliver projects on time - or just plain save money.

When you step back - it is remarkable how bad a job we tend to do in IT for a variety of reasons - some of our own making, others not.

Look at the monumental project IT failures. The spectacular cost overruns. The scope creep. The launch failures.

The funny thing is - none of this is new. In fact, not even close. I remember back early in my career reading “The Mythical Man Month” by Frederick Brooks and frantically underlining passages that echoed the “death march” of a project I happened to be working on at the time.

This book was published in 1975! The majority of people working in IT were not even born in 1975. But are things any better?

Well, we have Agile - and that helps a bit. We have ITIL, and that helps not-at-all in my opinion. We are pushing towards the “full stack developer” which looks like a bit of a furphy to me to some extent.

The real issue is that we have a significant skills gap. Not between those who work in IT and those who do not have IT skills. But those who can do a really good job of IT - and those who just don’t. Sometimes this is caused by poor leadership, sometimes poor budgets, sometimes poor skills or lack of passion. There are a raft of reasons.

But enough complaining - what are some answers?

In my view we will see a number of transitions occur.

  1. The recasting of the IT team as a sporting team. With proper coaching, development, ridiculous levels of pay and an expectation of commensurate performance. Echoes of this already exist in the world of high frequency trading development and other fields. This will be 10-15% tops of all IT - probably closer to 5%. They will have the happiest, but most demanding, business stakeholders.

  2. The emergence of the generalist IT person who is equally comfortable with a deep dive into CAP theorem as well as a spirited discussion of the merits of Erlang vs Go whilst automagically spinning up a cloud environment using a very small shell script. This will probably be another 20% of the overall community. And they will deliver some pretty cool stuff and have some really happy business stakeholders. And will be close to what people have in mind in the “full stack developer”.

  3. The continuance of the “just enough IT before things all fall apart” trend. You might be familiar with this. If you have a laptop that takes 30 minutes to boot up because it is too underpowered, has to scan for viruses and load about 20 different “corporate packages” because it is “policy” - you know it well. This is the demotivated workforce, the poorly managed and under-trained team, the people without passion, the terrible process over outcome behaviours. This will be a good 70%-80% of IT.

How can this be? So much bad IT - surely business will complain?

Businesses are making a choice - is IT a competitive differentiator or not? At that level it is a stark and increasingly simple choice.

If it is - invest heavily, and create that top 5% of talent - nurture it and use it as a competitive weapon.

If it is not, starve the function of funds, do the minimum to just get by and accept the productivity and market losses as not significant enough for the business to worry about.

It is usually apparent which side of this decision a company is on in the first 10-15 minutes of being there!

It will be fascinating to see which businesses in which industry verticals choose each approach, and when - and who make the right decision!