New Normal Around Corner

IT workers must shift focus rather than compete with offshore commodity providers.

When an industry figure like Michael Dell states, as he did recently, that the economy is stabilizing and improving moderately, many people react like Columbus sailors hearing the first shouts of "Land!" from the mainmast. But just as Columbus set out with one destination in mind, only to arrive at another, so the industrys next rebound will not give us an alternate route to easy wealth—although it will lead to new opportunities for those who dare seek them.

Many people long for something thats not terra firma but more resembles the late dot-com bubble. To them, "normal" means a Nasdaq index above 5,000 and venture capitalists who throw money away. The bubble was not normal. Although another bubble may someday appear, its not likely to any time soon. Nor should anyone desire that, since it would bring about a distorted economy and an inevitable collapse.

The new "normal" will not turn back the clock; it will be better than today but decidedly different from the industry of the past. Some characteristics are emerging, and it is not too soon to start preparing for the environment they will create.

First: Open-source software will not be a novelty. People will come to expect open source—or at least such hybrids as Microsofts so-called shared-source scheme and others like it. IT buyers will not assume that lock-in to high-cost software is a condition of existence.

Second: IT will be global. Theres no turning back here. Lots of IT work will be done in India, China and other countries. It may seem unfair, and in the short term, it will surely be painful to many, but IT workers must shift their focus to skills that are in demand, rather than compete with offshore commodity providers.

The costs of using offshore shops will rise toward a global equilibrium. As GM Vice President and CIO Ralph Szygenda said recently in an eWEEK interview: Protectionism has never caught on in America. IT education remains important, though, and students who have not shied from IT in the downturn will be rewarded in the upturn.

Third: Technologies such as voice over IP are achieving high quality and lower costs. Likewise, storage over IP, which combined with VOIP eases the burdens of network administration and creates opportunities for useful, cost-cutting services. And more information and associated services will spread to more people in more places, thanks to better data compression, united with low-power processors. IPv6 will allow those services to enjoy higher levels of protection.

None of these, however, will be in itself the "next big thing." Like the PC and the Web, the next big thing will appear when technologies, not all of which are new, converge unexpectedly.

When the rebound occurs, a more balanced, less hysterical approach to IT will take hold. Those willing to work will find more than enough to make the journey worthwhile.

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