It’s always darkest before it gets darker. At its annual symposium in San Francisco this week, Gartner is drawing a bleak picture of the future of the traditional corporate IT function. The research house predicted that, for the fourth year running, IT budgets will grow less than 3 percent this year. As if on cue, giant tech vendor Hewlett-Packard announced today that it would chop an estimated $1 billion off its own internal IT budget by consolidating its IT operations and assets and closing down 79 data centers around the world.
Gartner notes that “many technology segments are already commoditized today. PCs, storage and bandwidth are essentially commodities, where buyers can get essentially the same ‘product’ irrespective of who they choose [to supply it]. Gartner analysts see this trend continuing to encompass elements of software and services as well.” In an interview with Silicon.com (thanks, Charles), Gartner’s Ken McGee elaborates:
“We think there is a slowdown taking place. Businesses don’t see the value [in technology] any longer. They find no compelling reasons for vigorous investment. It’s a non-growth industry … This represents a very dangerous period ahead. It will only accelerate the number of organizations who conclude ‘this is a commodity and I don’t need you to do it.'”
None of this will come as much of a surprise to anyone who’s been watching the recent behavior of top IT executives. IT has become an albatross around the necks of many CIOs. More and more of them are trying hard to distance themselves from “the technology” in order to escape the dead end of the data center. The CIO role is being repositioned in various ways: It’s not about IT anymore; it’s about “innovation” or “change management” or “process design” or “collaboration” or … well, anything but IT. A few days ago, I met a well-respected CIO at an event, and the first thing she told me when we started talking about IT was, “I don’t really see myself as being an IT person.”
Speaking at a UK conference of public-sector IT executives last week, another CIO put his finger on his profession’s identity crisis:
“As IT becomes more plug and play, the traditional technology roles are bound to diminish. We no longer do much system development – we buy it in – and as we get the standards developed we won’t need to do systems integration to the same extent. The networks are pretty much plug and play, so what are we going to do as a profession?”
But it was what another IT director said that really summed up what’s going on: “One of the first tests of a CIO is stick them in front of a broken PC and see if they can fix it. If they can they aren’t a CIO … We aren’t about running tin anymore.”
You have to wonder: If IT mattered, why would CIOs be trying so hard to disassociate themselves from it?