From the Editor in Chief

'No boundaries' should be no problem for IT professionals who are forward-looking.

AS WE GET READY to embrace the challenges of the coming century, there is no single concept that better captures the challenges facing IT people than "no boundaries."

If you stop to think about how the role of IT people has evolved over the last few years, you'll find yourself struck by an amazing transformation.

As little as three years ago, most of the people in IT believed that their jobs began and ended within the four walls of the building in which they worked.

Anything that took place outside of those boundaries was somebody else's problem.

Today, the standard operating procedures by which most IT people live is almost the exact opposite. For example, working from home is now a requirement for just about everybody. That means that more often than not, providing the laptop and all the requisite software to make it useful is the responsibility of the IT department.

But we haven't seen anything yet. Over the coming year we're going to see end-users demanding even more support as they begin to embrace home networking.

The core of those home networks is going to be a new generation of consumer server products from companies such as 3Com, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, and Sony Electronics. Eventually, each one of those servers is going to need a corporate-sanctioned firewall and an IP address on the company's intranet.

The reason this will happen has nothing to do with whether it makes good technical sense. The truth of that matter is that in the never-ending battle to hold on to employees in a tight labor market, companies are willing to do just about anything.

So if the new vice president of marketing wants his home computing environment tied in to the corporate intranet, that's probably going to happen. And once the camel's nose is under the tent, you can be pretty sure that there will be a large number of employees lining up outside your office for the same service.

You can probably postpone this for a couple of years, but at the end of the day you'll be happy just knowing that they are not remotely leveraging your brand-new 64-bit Merced server to beat the guy down the street in an online game of Quake. Of course you'll have to have more sophisticated network and systems management tools to make sure this doesn't happen.

If that's not enough to get you pondering the changing role of IT, consider the other major trends that are expanding the purview of IT.

Every company of any significant size today does business overseas. This general trend toward globalization of the economy means that every time there is a significant IT incident at any company your organization does business with, it has implications for you. This will be even more true as we move to create dynamic trading networks composed of hundreds of companies doing business in real time via the Internet.

Finally, there is the great unknown. Anytime you pick up the paper nowadays you will read about at least one merger or acquisition. As the manager of the IT organization, you are under obligation to your company's shareholders to make sure that your IT architecture can be meshed with another company that your organization is about to acquire or be acquired by.

The history of IT is rife with mergers and acquisitions that were complicated by incompatible IT architectures. In the age of electronic business, building closed IT architectures will be unacceptable to shareholders who own the company. After all, the electronic-business possibilities are endless: Witness the pending merger between America Online and Time Warner. Going forward, that deal will be only one of many previously unthinkable combinations that will rock your IT world.

In the meantime, we all just need to open our minds to any possibility.

Hopefully, this week's special report beginning on page 38 will be fuel for thought. After all, in today's economy it's not so much what you know that will determine your ultimate value, but rather what you can imagine.

Got another point of view? Write to me at michael_vizard@infoworld.com.

Michael Vizard is editor in chief at InfoWorld.

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