Do you consider ecosystems?

Computing 101: Whatever you are using now, you won’t be using in the future…

We all know it, both intuitively, and from experience, even if we’ve only been in the IT business for a few years. The single constant in the business of IT is that IT is inconstant. It changes progressively, sometimes slower than we wish, often faster than we can keep up with, but it changes inevitably. The burning question is: what thought are you putting into that change? As a business owner or an IT professional the question is pertinent and often overlooked. We may well read computer magazines, or the plethora of trade web sites, but in reality the industry is more interested in what’s just on the horizon rather than what’s over the horizon.

One trend I’ve noticed over the last year is an increasing narrowing of IT roles. Businesses aren’t looking for tech support staff – they’re looking for tech support with Windows Server 2012 R2, VMWare, Citrix and a host of other specifics. Businesses aren’t looking for coders – they’re looking for ASP.Net, C#, Agile and a host of other buzzwords. Nowhere do I see a business looking for thinkers. But, if we’re to plan for the long term, even for the medium term we must lose the specifics and think in bigger terms.

Let me give you an example from a different time. When I got married, my wife decided to do some temping as a secretary. She had used a word processor on a DEC PDP-11 (this was 1988), but wasn’t familiar with PC based word processing. Every job advert mentioned a specific word processor, such as WordStar or Word Perfect. She was concerned that she, especially as a non techie didn’t know these and wouldn’t be able to do the job. I suggested that apart from minor differences the principles were the same and told her to go ahead and apply regardless. Needless to say, she got plenty of work and was more than able to adapt principles of word processing to specifics.

Do you see the principle? Server 2012 will one day be gone – not just unsupported, but gone. We need to plan for a future that we can’t see, but we do know will be different in terms of infrastructure, applications, user interaction, user hardware (I daren’t even call it PC any more). If we look only for IT staff with ‘book learned’ specifics we will miss the natural thinkers with the vision to plan for the future.

On an infrastructure level, servers are becoming a commodity. As they are increasingly virtualised locally, the question is raised, why not offload them to a cloud provider who will manage everything for me? On a software level, do you really need everyone in your office to have a copy of MS Office? The potential ecosystems are beginning to multiply again and the choices will only increase. This is a good thing. There is more competition and each ecosystem will have to work harder to gain traction – just look at Android versus iOS. Android already has more apps than MS Windows, more people are choosing to use a non PC device for real work.

So, whatever you’re using right now is probably fine, and will probably be fine for next year, but whatever you do, don’t expect it to be fine forever and don’t wait until it catches you out before thinking about what comes next. Aim for the leading edge, not the trailing edge. Choose to employ thinkers and planners, those who look over the horizon and who see the big picture. And whenever you doubt that change will come, just think about the typewriter – the de facto productivity tool of it’s day, and think about the people who said “who would ever want a ‘personal computer’?”