I came across this interesting article in Network World talking about a new Nicholas Carr book, which predicts that utility computing will replace internal IT departments. I haven’t read the book, but, according to the Network World review, it sounds that the book predicts as more and more applications move “into the cloud”, the need for your traditional IT department will diminish, if not disappear all together. Salesforce.com, Google Apps and Google Mail, hosted VoIP are just a few examples of applications “in the cloud”. Of course, as to be expected, an article like that sparked a heated debate with people solidly perched on either side of the fence.
As I started thinking, I found myself somewhere in the middle of this argument. On one hand, I can’t help but agree with Mr. Carr. Even today I see a number of SMBs even amongst my client base that run very minimal IT departments, preferring instead to outsource or to use hosted or off-premise solutions, such as hosted e-mail, hosted VoIP, etc. I can imagine how in the very near future, the available hosted applications will become more powerful, more available and more prevalent. Software-as-a-service is a very attractive proposition to an SMB company, allowing access from anywhere and removing the headache of having to maintain, secure, backup related server(s). At the same time, I know companies who, while administering their own servers and developing their own custom applications, prefer not to have a server room and host their servers elsewhere.
On the other hand, I’m having a hard time envisioning certain companies running with no server room at all. I know of companies now, who, although perfect candidates for hosted solutions, are so protective of their data that they will not even entertain the idea of having their servers reside in someone else’s data center. Companies also want their software to work the way THEY work, thus custom application development efforts.
So pondering Mr. Carr’s statements, I think that he’s only 50% – 60% accurate in his predictions. The IT departments will be changing, their role in the organization will be changing, perhaps, even their name will be changing, but they will remain in a large number of companies out there.
Applications ‘in the cloud” are very real and are having a very profound impact on how we think about software. Automated and remote administration tools are reducing the the number of what someone else had called three-finger-salute monkeys. The IT departments in the companies are becoming more skilled, more agile, demonstrating and demanding a higher level of expertise and abilities. The basic functions — server maintenance, backup, email, some desktop applications — can and will be outsourced or moved off premises. What will remain are the strategic functions of IT, parts of internal systems that are near and dear to the firm’s heart, components that define a given company’s competitive advantage.
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