Skilled Labor: A Key IT Resource

It has been easy to lose sight of labor's primacy.

One of the first advocates of a U.S. Labor Day holiday was AFL co-founder Peter McGuire, who wanted to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."

The U.S. and international economies have given us a rude year indeed, with labor bearing the brunt of the discourtesies. Both IT managers and IT vendors would do well to pay their respects to labor as the increasingly vital ingredient in a business that was once perceived, ironically, as a dark force of job destruction.

In our realm, it has been easy to lose sight of the primacy of labor in the noisy chaos of constant innovation. But software development, still a stubbornly human endeavor, is the bottleneck that constrains the move toward a marketplace of Web services. Devising that market is itself a fundamentally social process.

If IT might have once deserved its stereotype as a refuge for managers who didnt want to deal with people, it can no longer afford that luxury: IT managers must distinguish themselves as leaders who can attract, develop, motivate and retain the best of the best if their enterprises are to derive competitive advantage from commodity technologies.

On the supply side, IT vendors must realize that their power to drive technology adoption is waning. In a standards-based environment, especially when long-term money is tight and short-term cash flow is king, buyers will replace what they must, expand what they can and throw out whats working only if theyre presented with a complete package of technologies and services that offers a direct path to high returns on investment. Labor—in the form of service providers and integrators—is, therefore, emerging as vital on the vendor side of the equation as well. Unisys and its partners, for example, will put 3,500 employees to work in the massive contract announced late last month to build an IT infrastructure from scratch that will be priced on a services basis for the newly created U.S. Transportation Administration. IBMs $3.5 billion buyout of PricewaterhouseCoopers PwC Consulting is a further endorsement of our views.

One way or another, its skilled labor, not autonomous innovation, that will bend "rude nature" into a more productive world.