The new IT: infrastructure technology

Enterprise software is rapidly taking on the characteristics of consumer software

The enthusiasm and energy at last month's DEMOfall conference made one thing very clear: The IT market is in the early days of an important new growth cycle. While megadeals, such as the Google/YouTube marriage, grab the headlines, it is enterprise IT that will be most profoundly affected in this next phase of technology evolution.

Over the next few years, we will see a remarkable transformation in the enterprise workplace. From creative media sites to mobile information services to radically shifted economics of long-distance communication, we now have few barriers to experimenting with a plethora of applications for personal and professional use. On the business front, applications such as collaborative wikis, process-management tools and marketing services are available as Web-delivered services. These applications exhibit the same design values that make consumer Web services and applications so appealing: They are easy to buy, easy to use and easy to share among colleagues. Enterprise software is rapidly taking on the characteristics of consumer software, and individual line-of-business managers are taking charge of the tools that help them reach their business objectives.

Forgoing formal review and approval processes, business managers are using their clout and their expense accounts to purchase Web-based software and services that deliver immediate benefits to the workgroup. While corporations will establish policy for such purchasing and data management, over time we'll see the role of the user-application specifier move from the IT organization to the business user.

This shift is empowering to those responsible for driving business and liberating to an emerging new IT role. In the new IT department, software is an operating expense paid for by business departments, not a capital expenditure weighing on the IT budget. IT will drive policies around data management within Web-based applications, but gone will be the days of software license management, user training, application support and piracy patrols.

The need for user system support will not go away, but little by little the IT organization will transform from end-to-end systems manager to infrastructure architect and provider. In this new role, IT will focus almost exclusively on the platforms that deliver application and data services, rather than on the applications and services themselves. This transformation will occur over time, and some core back-office functionality may never fully move out of the IT portfolio. Still, the majority of user business software will make the migration from glass house to corner office -- or cubical farms. When that happens, the term IT will be redefined to mean not information technology but infrastructure technology.

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