Do any REAL CIOs believe we're in a post PC world? No.

Reg roundtable delivers non-rose-tinted view of 2020

Register Roundtable at the Soho hotel

CIO Manifesto One reason for getting a dozen senior IT execs in for a chat is to work out which are the most flagrant lies peddled to us by PRs.

So it’s telling that when our April roundtable convened to consider how technology would look in 2020, the big idea that we’re now in a “post-PC world” was met with scornful laughter and instantly dismissed as a “gimmicky phrase”.

None of our execs had cut their Wintel count. Yes, we are buying fewer PCs nowadays mostly because they take far longer to die than they used to, but personal computing has extended to include a swarm of tablets, phones, Chromebooks and Blackberries. Indeed we see far more Blackberries.

One size fits all?

No. It seems there will always be a horde of staff in battery farms plugging away at Wintel PCs but the growth they’re planning is in cloud and mobile. Oh did I say “planning” ? Well, not really. They are preparing for staff to make decisions about devices and even which apps to use. The degree of freedom they’ll support is partly driven by the industry you work in. Heavily regulated businesses like banks work on “get what you’re given” and as is traditional at Round Tables, the “rich end of the able” is deploying good quality gear like the new BlackBerries because they can afford it and all of the execs talked of the shiny toy factor in user “requirements”. Rather than being post-PCs, the time we’re entering is post ring-binder for maintenance techs, delivery drivers and sales who are also being moved from laptops to tablets.

But we all know that it’s not a purely business decision to move to flexible mobile working. The execs talked of other managers who still believe that any work done outside their field of view doesn’t exist and have the political clout to stop it happening.

Pretending the world isn’t changing will bite them another way. The choice of kit and working style is now being seen as a key weapon in the war for talent, varying from letting people choose their device to tales of media firms offering £2,000 budgets for new staff to pick and choose their hardware and software. That’s as bad an idea as it sounds. Obviously there are some things like email where the client you use doesn’t really matter, but we quickly entered a crypt of horror stories of the way that cloud apps that are supposed to be compatible basically aren’t. Typically they can exchange basic data, but formatting and change management get lost leading to lots of manual adjustments, arduous reformatting, lost changes and general pain. That applies across the board and it’s not pretty.

It’s made more ugly by the way most of the IT execs no longer see themselves as the gatekeepers between IT vendors and users. Shadow IT has existed as long as PCs enabled business unit managers to whip out the credit card and buy a bit of kit. Cloud services make it pathetically easy to sign up, resulting in sales teams that have multiple unconnected systems for managing relationships, important spreadsheets in Office 365 that Google apps can’t handle and Salesforce being standardised on, with the IT department only finding out later and this is only growing. But there is a silver lining to buying ever more cloud services. It is going to create a bunch of jobs for ITpros in integration and DevOps. And it grows faster than you think, since each system may have to integrate with each other system for data interchange and management, the number of integrations needs goes up as the square. So a quite modest increase in the number of services and systems can easily double or triple the integration effort, which is good if you’re doing the work, less so if you’re trying to find the budget. But the big money is as a…

Chief Threat officer

You’ve seen the swarm of CxO job titles for what in the good old days (2004) we used to call an IT Director, a title that conjured up the image of a worthy and slightly harassed bloke whose job it was to organise the topping up of printers, antivirus and the wiring.

Our execs now see their firms as flies caught in a web of malign contracts. They are hostages to collateral damage in intellectual property trolling and the emergence of massively distruptive new players that started with Amazon and incarnates most recently as Uber. So where possible our execs are positioning themselves as the radar that spots how their supply or competitive ecosystem might change radically.

The interesting and worrying point is that only about half of them reckoned they were listened to. Sometimes of course this is because they are in industries where digital disruption is very unlikely, but it is also a political construct. As we saw in the Roundtable on getting IT execs on to the board LINK, the further up you go the sharper the elbows of those competing for power and what I think we will see is an evolutionary process. Firms that build a Chief Threat Officer capability will survive changing environments better. The variable is how much IT execs will be in charge of this.

Their solution is where possible to work very hard on sandwiching their warnings of impending doom with innovations and trying to disrupt their own opposition.

Sneakware

We all have tales of brutal software audits by Oracle et al and the licencing from the big vendors is so viciously complex that the exam to claim competence in legal use is harder than for the actual products. It’s going to get worse, and in some cases it already has. We’re all so used to the “for personal use only” blurb on “free” products that we’ve stopped reading it.

However, a growing problem is that when audited. this means that the app you got for free or cheap is actually going to cost the firm real money since it is not licenced for it. And yes before you ask this can also mean the organisation paying twice and so you can expect to read more of these problems in El Reg in the next few years.

You’re doomed

Again I am the bearer of bad news from IT management. Few are adding more data centre kit beyond end of life replacement with Cloud and Colocation sucking nearly all the growth that is following the rebound of the economy. They see zero future for drivers of systems. If you haven’t started making yourself multi-skilled and getting into DevOps then your career has rather more yesterdays than tomorrows; not only will you become easier to lose but when you go for other roles you will find it increasingly tougher.

But it’s worse than that because DevOps is biting at the overall headcount, in which efficiency is only partly compensated for by overall growth.

We always have a couple of the more interesting startup/SMEs at Round Tables and they see running their own data centre as about as realistic as fabricating their own processors. So as they grow, the future large enterprises will have started off with little central IT and used the flexibility and lack of hassle of Cloud/Colo to grow and simply won’t build datacentres.

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