IT: The Next Chapter

Optimism and opportunism supplant gloom and doom in forecasting the future of IT.

The IT manager isnt going extinct.

Despite boom and bust cycles and ever-susceptibility to being a corporate whipping boy, technology remains essential to successful enterprises large and small, say technology executives. Sure, there are concerns about outsourcing, and new expectations and requirements, but some unexpected opportunities are emerging.

It has been a long road. The dot-com boom of 1999 and 2000 inflated IT expectations to the point where an implosion was inevitable. The bust gave rise to bloated budgets and a backlash against technology. Outsourcing further eroded the notion of technology as strategic. Now things are turning up courtesy of the need to replace aging technology investments, mandates by regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and companies that believe IT can yield competitive advantage.

"Respect was earned during the lean years. Lessons were learned. The IT guy worked more closely with business and regained the trust of business managers. Now people expect and demand a greater return on investment. Companies recognize they cant live without IT," said Brian D. Jaffe, IT director of a media company in New York and co-author, with Bill Holtsnider, of the book "The IT Managers Handbook," the second edition of which is due in September.

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According to Jaffe and others, the next chapter for the IT worker could be promising. Heres why:

• Outsourcing has a diminishing luster. Jaffe said the push to outsource is already abating. "A lot of people are looking at bringing stuff back in-house," he said. "People are still looking at outsourcing, but the magic has worn off. Its switching one headache for another one—managing the outsourcer."

• IT workers will enjoy global demand for their services. While fear of being outsourced dominates, a global marketplace is emerging. That fact means workers could hang a shingle and become global players on their own. "The offshoring were seeing today is the first step in a longer-term process of creating a global marketplace," said Thomas Malone, the Patrick J. McGovern professor of management at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., and author of the book "The Future of Work."

"But were headed for equilibrium in the global wage market. It may take a decade or two, but at some point, people capable of doing work will get paid roughly the same amount wherever they are. It will happen a lot faster than people think," Malone said.

• New architectures need multiple skills. Technologies such as SOA (service-oriented architecture) are creating a burgeoning market for workers with technology and business skills, said Robert Rosen, CIO of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, NIH, president of the IBM user group SHARE and an eWeek Corporate Partner. For instance, this weeks annual SHARE conference, in Baltimore, will feature a track on SOA. "But its more than the technology. Its about your business processes," Rosen said, in Bethesda, Md.

• Technology will spur organizational evolution. Malone said companies are evolving along with new technologies. Why is that important? Companies cant overhaul how they operate without new software applications. And as enterprises evolve, they will have to see technology—and the information systems worker—as more than just a cost center, Malone said. "IT provides a hugely rich medium for organizational innovation," he said, adding that for the flexible technology worker, "its a potentially lucrative opportunity."

"People who stick it out in IT in the lean years will be well-positioned when the world wakes up and realizes that they need them," Malone said.

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