Saturday, December 15, 2007

Future of IT: the IT view

Continuing an occasional series, I'm taking a look at the IT department of 5-10 years from now.

Most IT departments break down into four components - client support, development, operations, and IT management. Each will be radically changed by new technology and business models, focused around the web.

Client Support

If all applications are web applications, then all you need is a browser with broadband web connection. Client computing will therefore become much more straightforward; no more configuring hundreds of registry settings and data on local c: drives. It also may not really matter which computer anyone has, since they all have browsers.

Similarly, with the focus on Software as a Service, application support will be given by third parties. I can only see a small role for client support within the IT department in future.

Software development

I already predicted that all applications will be web-based, and 80% of them hosted by a third party via Software as a Service - including the office suite, communications and collaboration.

Therefore, hardly any software development will take place inside the IT department. Instead, business analysts and architects will be responsible for configuring and integrating third party web applications, using the vendor-provided tools. Most of this will not involve code, except perhaps a smattering of regular expressions to manage data in two dominant formats; the relational database, and the Atom feed.

Any remaining software development will be enabled by an online tool. Imagine a website that stored your code, compiled it, helped you manage software configurations and releases, offered integrated bug databases and test environments, provided WYSIWYG user interface design, and hosted the resulting application. All client-based tools, like Eclipse and Visual Studio, would be replaced by web applications, with a full data centre to host your application behind them.

Software developers wouldn't need to know anything about the underlying hardware - they would just see their memory, CPU, network and storage usage, and be charged appropriately for each. The data center is hosted by the software development tool vendor and totally behind the scenes.


Most organisations will have zero servers to maintain, so won't need to spend much effort on operations. As for network operations, many devices will be connected to the internet via 3G or 4G wireless networks operated by third parties. Desktop devices will still be connected to a LAN, for the sake of speed, but that will plug directly into the internet. Hence network operations costs are likely to be low too.

IT management

IT management won't have to focus so much on operations - however, they will have to improve their vendor relationship management processes, because of their reliance on Software as a Service. IT managers will decide which vendors to use, and build a framework of best of breed web applications tailored to their business.

Because of this, IT managers will have less capital equipment to procure, and more subscription services to manage. They will have to learn the business more closely and take a more proactive role in determining the future of business oeprations.


The IT department, it has to be said, will be smaller in future. CIOs will rely on a network of partners and suppliers to achieve their goals, and will become much closer to the business as their role becomes business process strategists.

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