When our play opens, in the 1960s, computers were housed in temples and represented a significant capital expanse for the organizations that housed them. In the 1970s the mini-computer allowed departments to play; and in the 1980s the personal computer allowed individual professionals to play. That trend made it reasonable to assume that computing was a democratizing force; something likely to drive more and more power into the hands of smaller and smaller individual units in the economy.
The data center crowd played a starting role, as villain, in the PC revolutionary’s version of the story. The PC disrupted their power. Bewildered their process, their budgets, their software, and their ability to set standards. Those of us working on the PC considered these folks to be the enemy; Luddites. In some some fairy tail versions of the story the play ends with their death. In the B movie version in the closing scene we see a guy scrapping their name off the office door; but then a few moment’s later he’s putting up a new name. That name is IT.
These IT folks have, in some organizations, regain a lot of their power over how the organization deploys it’s computing resources. The complexity of the Window’s solution and strong network effects around internal organizational tools such as calendaring and email created carrots and sticks that brought the modern in-house IT organization back to life. And then a number of enterprise software packages began to emerge that had one foot in a corporate data center an another on all the PCs of this or that class of professionals. Sales, HR, Purchasing, Document Managment, etc. etc. Many of these sport a centralized database function, which further concentrated power into the data center.
So, what is this. A cyclic process? Did we misread the story of the 60s, 70s, and 80s? Were is the power of the corporate CIO/IT organization going from here? I have an intuition, only that.
I do not believe the power is going to stop in CIO’s data center. I think it’s just passing thru. I think it’s headed up and into the net. There it will fall into the hands of a small number of players as the network effects emerge and cause condensation. Consider email, calendaring, HR, sales pipelines, etc. etc. none of these has a strong reason – beyond illusions of privacy – to remain parked in the company data center. I’ve observed at least four of sales groups at this point that run two sets of books, i.e. two sales pipelines. One in the internal system because they were required to, and another on some internet embedded service run by a 3rd party because it was simple, effective, better socialized, more “situated,” and extremely adaptive.
Pity the poor CIO/IT dudes; 30 years of fighting to get on top again and, if I’m right, it’s only a very short lived interval as the work moves up and out of the firm entirely.