Will Generational Change Make IT Obsolete?

When I covered telecom pretty closely a few years back, I remember asking then-FCC chairman Michael Powell why it was so hard for most of Congress to grasp the potential of new technologies. We were talking about Voice over IP (VoIP) at the time, but his answer has turned out to applicable to lots of businesses, I have since found.

"Change," Powell said, speaking of legislators, "comes along generationally."

It was a non-satisfying answer for someone who couldn't understand why telecom committee members were so opposed to the benefits that VoIP technologies would ultimately bring. But I see the same kind of thing happening now, even in industries that think they move at light speed. We've got a huge mobile revolution going on, millions of people daily doing more things on their phones and tablets, and still -- you hear and read stories about how "Windows apps will never die."

Somewhere, a Cobol programmer is crying.

I didn't see this panel but apparently there was a pretty good debate at this week's CITE Conference about what the future holds for the traditional IT department. In some eyes, the CIO-led dictation of technology policy inside most companies is already dead or dying, with line of business leaders driving the technology change instead. Do you see that happening on your corporate shores? Or is the CIO still technology captain of your ship?

I tend to agree with the headline of the CITE panel recap, which bluntly states, "IT departments won't exist in 5 years." That's a good take, but it begs the definition of what you mean when you say "IT department." Just like corporate-only phones, the idea of a company saying "you will use this technology only" is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Truth is, change is happening so fast that IT departments can't keep pace. And devices and services are so simple that even CEOs can get them working, first time out, without a manual.

The generational part of the CITE debate was the fact that there are thousands of workers coming into the working world who never used Exchange, never used Outlook. They know Google Mail, or similar web-based communications. They expect them all to work together, and for the most part they do. Ever see a startup that installs Exchange? I don't know one.

So is your IT department changing? Or clinging to its old-school ways? Just like other vertical businesses, the Internet is finally catching up with corporate IT and is wreaking its usual disruptive change. Does that mean IT departments go away, or do they become something else? 

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