The Top 5 Issues Facing IT Today

Working in IT seems to be a constant game of “two steps forward, one step back.”  And that’s on the good days.  On other days it’s most definitely one step forward, two steps back, get tripped over by the person you didn’t see sneaking up behind you and have your face stepped on while lying on the ground.

Thinking about the problems faced by the IT industry, they fall into two categories that I’ll call micro-threats and macro-threats.  Micro-threats are the problems faced by individual workers within the workplace.  This might not seem like an issue for the industry overall, but if individual workplace are held back by dysfunctional practices then ultimately the industry as a whole suffers.  Macro-threats are the big issues that, if not quite industry-wide, have the effect of stifling or even crippling whole sectors.  While it often seems impossible to do anything about these big issues on an individual level, if they aren’t recognised and addressed, we all suffer.

So here are my top five:

1. The Stifling of Innovation – IT almost by definition is about innovation; the only constant in this industry is change.  The industry is worth more than US$2.5 Trillion annually worldwide and yet faces constant attempts to thwart its continued success. 

Whether it’s the lies of the entertainment industry, cynical people building business strategies around patents rather than actual innovation (or even work), Microsoft (and others) spreading Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt about their competitors or Apple (and others) pursuing increasingly spurious lawsuits to “protect” their businesses, it has the same effect.  Comparatively tiny vested interests are threatening the continued growth and prosperity of the vast majority.  Until we stop seeing this bullshit as “good business” and recognise it for what it is – a shakedown – everyone’s future is at risk.

2. The obsession with technologies and methodologies over results – the fundamental disconnect between a technologist and a business person often comes down to focus.  We geeks love our gadgets.  A Southern Baptist preacher aint got nothin’ on a hardcore geek evangelising about his favourite technology.  Here’s a hard fact for many IT people: the right technology is the one that gets the job done.  The average business person has no interest in the programming language, operating system, hardware or methodology that you believe is the one true path to the promised land. 

That’s if you’re lucky – in my experience, there’s nothing worse than a business person who has arbitrarily decided that one technology is better than another.  If you’re convinced that your favoured technology and methodology is the best, prove it with results, not rhetoric.  Religious arguments are bad enough when they’re about religion; elevating technology to the level of religion is counter-productive and downright scary.

3. Arrogance – Here’s a tip: if you’re trying to explain technology to someone and they don’t seem to understand, treating them like they’re stupid isn’t going to help anyone, you least of all.  It doesn’t matter if they really are stupid, the IT industry’s reputation for arrogance has been earned by the frequent misapplication of grossly unjustified arrogance from many IT practitioners.  And if you think arrogance makes you “strong”, just stay the hell away from me you sociopathic jerk.  Besides making average(non-arrogant) geeks’ life a misery, quite a few major companies have been destroyed due in no small part to arrogance. 

Napster probably should have been a huge commercial success, it could have opened the door for huge new revenue streams for record companies and artists.  But Shawn Fanning’s extraordinary arrogance turned him into his greatest potential customers’ mortal enemy.  It’s true that the record companies seem to be controlled by greedy old white guys who run their business like the mafia.  They might have gone after Napster if Fanning had been as sweet as pie but his attitude in the early days pretty much sealed his fate.  By the time he had been sufficiently coached to act like a grownup it was too late.

4. Hype over Substance – There’s no getting around it, IT is exciting.  The rate of change and the explosion in computing power have opened so many possibilities it’s dizzying.  Sometimes literally.  It seems that “irrational exuberance” is an occupational hazard in IT.  Sure, it’s a great way to get media attention and investment capital but it seriously hurts your credibility if you can’t deliver on the hyperbole. 

Have you ever noticed that overhyped “world-changing” technologies almost always fail utterly? (the Segway springs to mind).  And the truly life-changing things seem to sneak up on us.  In retrospect we can see how great they are but they weren’t heralded by trumpets from the heavens.  The iPod was unveiled as a great product but I don’t recall outlandish claims about how Apple would sell millions, create an entire new market and essentially rejuvenate the entire company with a bloody portable music player.  If Jobs had introduced the iPod by predicting the sales figures Apple have actually achieved in the years since, he would have been a public laughing stock.

5. Constantly focusing on “the now”.  While IT development is arguably about creating the future, I’m always astonished at how many colossal screw-ups are perpetrated by thinking only about the current moment in time.  The Y2K issue was created by programmers deliberately introducing an appalling limitation into systems essentially because it wasn’t a problem for them – someone would fix it in the future.  Arguably, this turned out to be true but this issue is a perfect illustration of how short sighted thinking in IT has long term consequences. 

This can also be seen in how people tend to discuss the current stars in the IT environment at any given time.  The number of discussions running rampant at the moment about the disproportionate power of Digg are utterly ridiculous.  Digg came out of literally nothing a very short time ago.  The very fact they exist and have achieved prominence so quickly is evidence that Digg is likely to be irrelevant long term.  There is every possibility that a different, better service will eclipse Digg in the future.  But far too often, analysis of these topic seem to be based on the idea that the status quo of today will never shift.  Because Digg (or YouTube or MySpace or even Google) is so dominant today, they will always be dominant and it’s pointless to even try to compete with them.  This simply isn’t true but you hear it again and again.

- – -

For each of the above examples it would be easy to cite examples of companies and individual who have triumphed over these threats (and hopefully people will provide some in the comments).  The fact that these threats can be successfully fought doesn’t invalidate this article, that’s the whole point of the article.  Knowing what issues you face is the first step in dealing with them (that’s the analyst in me talking).  Ignoring threats or worse still, being totally ignorant of the threats you face is playing Russian Roulette.  And sooner or later you’re going to spin up the wrong chamber.

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “The Top 5 Issues Facing IT Today

  1. I also think that there is an issue with accessability, we make technology hard for people to use and access. Just try and explai to someone about RSS and subscribing to a podcast!

    It needs to be seamless to the user. They need to get there and not know how they did.

    Don’t know if that is a mistake of technology or just where it is at for now.

  2. Salamaat,
    But if we make it accessible who will hire us wanna-be-IT-gurus?
    :)

    it’s a matter of survival, I daresay:)

  3. Pingback: Mike-O-Matic » The Greatest IT Threats

  4. hello my name is victoria… ocmment me back please… im having a bad day

  5. HELLO… im still here and guess what… no comment!

  6. Dear Rooster:

    Could you explain RSS to me? All I am trying to do is get some feeds for my code! AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!

    cyborlog@yahoo.com

  7. wildgift

    The iPod was seriously hyped. Even before it existed, people, for a couple years at least, were saying that Apple should be making hardware versions of “Quicktime Player” — that expectation was a kind of hype, and every Apple product has a lot of built-in hype. It’s just up to Apple to meet popular expectations. Lo and behold, they did it, and better than people expected. Not only that, they did it years after the real innovators did it.

    Also, the Y2K compromise was justified. It cut the length of the year in half. It also turned calculations on the year into a byte operation, which could be done with 8-bit registers. Computing was more expensive back then.

  8. The other problem IT is facing the Monoply of Big Corporations who had made small Consultants very hard to survive. Had my small IT Software Development which was growoing slowely growing is hit hard because I don’t have financial resources to compete with IBM Accenture who had taken over all the projects outsourcing the work to India.

  9. Rooster: I agree, I might place this as a sub-category of arrogance. IT folk are often to arrogant to see the need to make things accessible.

    Maliha: That’s unusually cyncial for you ;)

    Victoria: I was asleep when you posted that (other side of the world) – be patient

    thenewg: I’ve never managed to get into RSS either!

    wildgift: I’ll take your word on the iPod, I don’t remember a level of hype that, in retrospect, they could have justified. And yes, the coding decisions that led to Y2K wasn’t a terrible evil but I do think it’s an example of the tendency to only think in the moment.

    quranbible: damn right! The stifling of innovation in the name of vested interests. The number one problem for my money.

  10. Hmm interesting idea being angry 365 days a year…..Hey look me up on the next feb 29….I’ll buy you a beer

  11. Outstanding five points…and I agree they are the casue of a lot of problems in business today…

  12. Pingback: Top 5 IT Issues « Interknox Networks

  13. If there are many others like me out there, we are having trouble understanind a new language simply because of lack of visuals both in the written and picture and/or symbol form.

    I don’t understand the benefit of RSS simply because I visually cannot see it. I read the benefits. I undertsnd the benefits but yet it just seems like something difficult to implement. RSS might do well if the industry could descibe in it metaphor to the general public.

    I find this comparable with CSS. I know it is better. I read that it is better. And now I know why simply through the use of wordpress and blogging. BUT I am only a novice coder.

    I learned about blogging more rapidly than any other technology ever.

    If RSS were akin to blogging as CSS were akin to blogging then many of us could begin to play with it.

    Mr. Angry this post just got me thinking. Not everyone undertsands in the same way when something new is introduced about or on anything. People could simply be forgetting that we all have senses and therefore are inteligent. IT could adapt it’s words into visuals by working freely with designers. And designers could work freely with IT personal. This could be extended to:

    For every Programmer there is a writer, a designer, an illustrator a panter, a chemist, a scientist, a poet, a dancer, a physicist… ad infinitum

    Take away the fear mongering money laundering and just plain distrust and all artistic interpretation could work together.

    Ahhh… i love dreaming and actually writing it out because I feel good. The issues you have raised are very apparent in the existing corporate graphic design market also. I am a blogger who has faith in that what I am doing is what I am doing.

    Mr. Angry, my angry 365 days happened over most of last year. Innovation begins the moment we choose an ending.

  14. That’s awesome feedback jessica. I think you’ve hit on something important, I talked about why focussing on technology instead of results is bad. You gace a great illustration – someone told you RSS and CSS were good but you had no idea why. But blogging is important to you and wordpress utilises Cascading Style Sheets for presentation and Really Simple Syndication for content sharing so now you can see the value.

    And I’m glad that you’re past you 365 angry days!

  15. Ha ha – and man dude you responded quick. It’s like 4AM here in Vancouver Canada and just checked, it is in the evening in Australia.

    Have you ever seen the movie – The Upside of Anger – ?

  16. You happened to respond while I was sitting at the PC. I’m just uploading a video to YouTube that I will be putting here a little later – it’s a montage of my first 100 videos and it’s taken me forever to do. It’s only 9pm here, what’s your excuse for being up at 4am? :) I haven’t watched that movie but I’ve seen it on the shelf at the video store. I always notice things with “anger” or “angry” in the title these days.

  17. Techie24Chick

    reflecting on # 2 ….

    I know this older gentleman that teaches Internet technologies….. boy ‘ole boy …. he loves to talk gadgets. Me and the other techs know if we see him in the hall to be prepared for the latest and greatest gadgets he found over the weekend! It can be hilarious especially when you do not have time to stop and chat for an hour.

    like ur blog… try not to stay angry .. it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth after time. ;-)

  18. I find that disproportionate outbursts of anger via blogging have a very cathertic effect and make me far less likely to suffer from angry outbursts in my actual life :)

  19. Ilove this article very much,at leastit has openad my eves a little concerning challenges we IT guys experience in th field.however I want to ask my own question.in as much as we are talking abt the challenges here,what about the remedy? Plz could you enlighten us farther on the remedythank you.

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