When NBC needed someone to explain the accomplishment of landing the "Spirit" probe on Mars, this past Saturday night, I thought it was appropriate that the engineer they interviewed was one of the missions software specialists. In the live report that I saw from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, that member of the mission team made exactly the right point: that the crucial challenge in accomplishments of this kind is making all the right things happen at exactly the right time.
Thats not the same as merely repeating the cliché that "timing is everything." The concept of time, as a part of the execution context of software that interacts with other critical systems, can actually be gotten wrong in a frightening number of ways. For example, are you certain that your applications can correctly handle a minute with 61 seconds? Every now and then, this actually does occur--but some developers dont want to deal with it in their applications.
Time should also enter into our definitions of what it means to provide backup capabilities and disaster protection plans. A plan that purports to provide a complete backup of enterprise IT data and function, but that does not set forth specific criteria for which capabilities must be back online in how much time after a disruption, is at best an academic exercise and at worst an expensive way to go out of business.
By no means last on the list is the question of timeliness in the support thats provided to IT teams and users: a critical factor in enterprise outsourcing decisions. Observers of the outsourcing industry in India, for example, identify this as a key area in which that country must retain a competitive edge to avoid getting its lunch eaten by China in the next few years. If you think that Asian providers are simply too far away to be a threat, thats OK: Mexico will happily provide a challenge closer to home.
Overall, though, I see plenty of reasons to expect a year of good things for IT professionals: opportunities to do creative work, and the resources to do that work well.
Heres wishing you the best of times in 2004.