IT departments are going away?

| 1 Comment

That's a nice attention-getting headline, and also the kind of thing technology futurists like to throw about. Anyway, quick hits:

  • Never under estimate the power of intertia. Companies that have IT departments, will tend to continue the practice.
  • The role of IT is definitely changing. Like it has for the past 40 years or so.
  • A Phat internet connection and a BYOD policy mean a lot of traditional IT problems are outsourced to all of those web-app suppliers you're using.

If you take my company as an example of the future of IT I can see where some of these claims are coming from. What I do on a day to day basis is only faintly involved with traditional IT.

Actually, let's back that off and define one of the premises here.

Q: What is IT?

A: IT is the department that holds all the technology together so the company can make money or fulfull its mission.

Right then.

For 'traditional' IT, this ball-o-tech was very much focused on Office Automation. File-servers and printers and email, oh my!

But IT is more then that. In the past ten years the ball-o-tech also included the company web presence, and in the past five it also included the company's web-applications.

Traditional office-automation style IT is definitely under threat right now, and my company is a case in point in that. Nearly all of that kind of market doesn't apply to us. I continue to get cold-calls from vendors trying to sell me office-automation style widgets and services:

  • Anything relating to printers. We have one printer. We put paper in it every couple months or so, and whenever it runs out of toner there is a big game of not-it to pick the person who gets to figure out how to reorder it.
  • Anti-virus software. We're now well under the 50% line for Windows users, and most of them use whatever came with the laptop. I do have a package for those who want something from us, but right now I have two (2) people besides myself using it.
    • Server-side AV is not something we do, since we don't really do file-servers or mail-servers.
    • We get a spurt of interest in Mac-AV whenever some malware proof-of-concept gets pushed out into the public zeitgeist.
  • Managed laptops. This kind of thing makes sense for organizations larger than ours, but there is no point to us. A large percentage of us are using Apple products, and the rest do not have a consistent OS on them (multiple flavors of Ubuntu, an OpenSUSE, WinXP (yes, still), and Win 7).
  • Mobile management platforms.We're still pretty BYOD here. Though we are taking some steps with our email platform.
    • 5 years ago, "Mobile" was code for Your employees who spend half the time on the road. That has changed to Anything that can be done from a smartphone or tablet.
  • Application training. Our company only hires people who are very literate with their computers and are not afraid of change. This means we don't have the target market for things like How To Use Powerpoint. It also means we don't have a market for How To Make Dynamic Websites style classes.
  • EMail archiving products. Being a Google Apps company, we're kinda stuck in that ecosystem. Exchange-based archiving solutions are kinda not what we're interested in.
  • IT Outsourcing. I get these calls since I'm apparently listed as "Director of Technology" out there somewhere, even though I'm not. I'm not interested in outsourcing my job, thanks.
  • Seminars about Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. Remember all of those Apple users we have? There will be no VDIs for us.
  • Seminars about BYOD policy impacts. Oh, hon. That ship has sailed.
  • Seminars about the benefits of Cloud Computing. We write the stuff, we're kinda fans.

Yeah. That kind of traditional IT is dead in a company like ours. But IT is not just about office automation, it's also the computing infrastructure that supports the business. We're a company operating a hybrid cloud, so we actually do have some deep compute infrastructure that we actually own and pay the power bills for. We do this for very good reasons related to cost efficiencies I'll talk about at some point.

That DevOps group that keeps everything running? That's IT, it just dresses funny. Someone from 1998 may not immediately recognize it as The IT Department, but the role it fills is very familiar.

Where that visitor from 1998 would fail to recognize an IT department would be a fully distributed company that doesn't actually have any premises, and everyone it employs either works from home, or works from a co-working facility in their home town. Such companies are still very much the minority, but they're the kind of thing futurists like to point to.

The IT department isn't going anywhere, it's just changing. Fully distributed tech companies may not be recognizable as such, but monolithic thing-makers like General Motors continue to have a recognizable IT department. What's more, as any sysadmin who has been in the market for any time can tell you: the new-shiny may be very new and shiny and distracting, but the old and dull is still there and needs to be managed until it can finally get the boot. The old and dull IT department will linger on for a long, long time.

1 Comment

First, your sign-in thing seems to be broken again. It kept telling me that I didn't "own that identity", but I surely do.

Secondly, I whole-heartedly agree with you.
People who say that the IT Department is going away or has gone away, either don't know what they're talking about or have a very, very limited view of our industry. IT is changing, sure. Like, as you mention in the post, it has pretty much since its inception. Just the nature of that beast. But, I promise all those nay-sayers that someone has to keep "the cloud" running. Whether that means you're a sysadmin for Dropbox or Amazon or or someone else like that, there's still a server crew and a Help Desk somewhere out there that is the human glue that keeps "the cloud" running, available and user-friendly.

Besides, as you so aptly point out, there are still plenty of very large companies who maintain very traditional IT departments. We are *far* from an extinct species, though I do admit that more of us have to evolve as the networks and servers we tend evolve.

Great post. Very spot-on!