Are These Glory Days or God-Awful Times for IT?

Ann All

My fantasy jobs all involve getting paid to do something I love. Because I am a voracious reader, I always thought it'd be great to be an editor at a big publishing house. I'd relocate to Vermont if only Ben & Jerry's would hire me to help with quality control. I wonder if some folks in IT aren't like that, thinking they're lucky to score a job where they get to spend so much time doing what they love.


Between some of my recent posts about technology executives, including one in which I wondered why CIOs are so prone to self-analysis, and news reports about work conditions in IT getting tougher, like this one about a survey that found IT personnel are working longer hours, I sometimes forget that many folks in IT flat out love technology. Because they love technology, they love their jobs.


A post from Jim Anderson on his The Accidental Successful CIO blog reminded me of this. (Here I confess I'm a bit confused by the title. Reading his posts, it's clear Anderson doesn't think success is an accident. Is he being ironic?) Anderson mentions a recent speech given by Tom Siebel (of Siebel Systems fame) in which he discussed IT's slowing growth rates. Siebel's real meaning, writes Anderson:


... IT's glory days are behind it. In fact, he thinks that the party was over as of about 2000.


Siebel's thoughts were apparently based on IDC spending research. A New York Times writer reporting on the speech consulted with a Northwestern University professor, who didn't think IT spending has slowed quite as much as Siebel seems to think. Where Siebel cited an average annual IT spending growth rate of 17 percent from 1980 to 2000, the professor believes the true number is 11.6 percent. So while there's no question IT spending growth has slowed, it's not off as much as Siebel implied in his speech.


Putting the numbers aside, Anderson said CIOs shouldn't worry about the maturation of IT. Sales declines over time are normal. Not only that, but when the economy picks up and all of the technology projects that have been put on ice resume, they'll generate plenty of growth.


My fundamental problem with this is the apparent assumption that unchecked spending indicates a thriving industry. As we're finding out the hard way with the larger economy, you can't really spend your problems away.


Many game-changing technologies that have emerged in recent years, like virtualization, software-as-a-service and open source software, help companies streamline some of the system complexity that resulted from years of indiscriminate spending. I wrote about this in 2006, noting that many entrants on that year's InformationWeek 500 list of companies created funding for strategic initiatives by cutting costs from their operational budgets.

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