Monday, November 23, 2009

IT as Utility, that is just stupid. And Wrong.

This set of ideas just won't die, no matter how wrong they are.Deceased IT

"IT will be completely commoditized"

"IT will be just another utility, like power and water"

And my favorite:

""IT is dead"

We've heard this idiocy from a variety of smart people, including Nicholas Carr and even The Bruce, and there is some truth to it- some parts of IT are becoming commodities, and IT is certainly evolving.  Some people have extrapolated these ideas into saying that careers in IT are dead-ends.  Now I've got nothing against the judicious use of hype and hyperbole to make a point, but these ideas fall apart pretty quickly under a little scrutiny.  As far as "death" of the careers, these lies aren't even true for actual utilities such as power and water.

Let's start with commodity- it is certainly true that in IT you can often get similar services from a multitude of sources, but the commodity/utility analog only goes so far.  For one thing, utilities usually offer little or no choice; your water company is the only game in town, unless you dig a hole in the yard.  Other utilities do have some competition, but "the x company" is often responsible for "last mile" connectivity regardless of who you send the check to each month.  Turning to the product- when I turn the knob on the faucet I get water; when my neighbor turns on her faucet she gets water, too- and it is the same water for the entire area, and whoever needs it, gets it.  Same goes for electricity, natural gas, etc.  Sure, there are a couple of different pressure/voltage/flow options, but it is all just increments of the same thing.  And as far as electricity, it is crap.  "You'll outsource your network the way you outsource electricity".  Except NO ONE with a need for stable and reliable electricity outsources it completely- what comes off the wire is garbage, we have to use a variety of devices, from UPSes to power conditioners to have any faith in what comes out of the wall.  Oh, and I don't suppose you've noticed the booming sale of generators to businesses large and small (and to homeowners)- that's because the commodity is not good enough and not reliable enough to trust.  I hear the arguments, "but Jack, my phone is MY number", and that is true, but it is still the same capability set with a little personalization.  Cable TV falls into this category, your whole neighborhood gets a set of available features, if you want something unique, you get lots of practice at "wanting", because you aren't getting it.  The phone company does offer a lot more than POTS lines these days, but they need a lot of people to do it- and you need people to take their services from the demarc point to something useful. 

Moving on to the "... is dead" or "... is irrelevant" nonsense.  Starting with the obvious: if everyone doesn't generate their own electricity, but instead buys it... the electric company has to hire a buttload of electricians and engineers to make this work.  The task is not "dead", it just moved. As we move beyond that, answer this: if something is dead or irrelevant once it is a "commoditized utility" , can you explain why you see so many plumbers and electricians on your daily commute?  Because things go wrong. Because it has to be installed.  Because if you get a "one size fits all" commodity, someone has to make it fit for you.  Because someone has to get the various commodities where they are needed and to keep them from leaking into unwanted places.  Let's not overlook all the plumbers and electricians you don't see, the ones who go to work at the same site every day- plants, retail facilities, hotels, and so on.  They have careers in spite of working with utilities. Some have jobs because of the utilities' poor quality and service.

Part of this flawed mindset is human nature, at least the nature of humans who aren't curious or observant- if someone else does something for me, it is automatic, and I can ignore automatic things.  Until they fail and I'm screwed because I don't know how it works, so I can't even figure out the right person to call.  Here, we're actually on to something, because that describes a lot of what we deal with in IT.

As mentioned earlier, IT is evolving, and some things are being "commoditized".  Cloud computing, whatever that means*, is a great example of this.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about cloud computing, and even more misinformation.  It will eventually get worked out, but for now, I like being on the sidelines of the cloud game.

The "dead-end" career talk about IT is, however, absolutely accurate- if you aren't ready, willing, and able to work in an evolving environment.  On the other hand, if you are working to keep up with your industry and looking ahead, you are probably as safe as anyone in this volatile global economy.

*I actually have a grasp on "cloud" terminology, but it is not my focus.  If you want to know about cloud computing issues you are already a reader of Hoff's blog, or you should be.

You may have noticed I didn't mention anything about the impact of commoditization on security, or security's impact on commoditization.  That is a set of discussions for another time, but for now let's just go with "What could possibly go wrong?"