End of the golden years


I’ve had this stupid flu virus that’s going around, during which I had some truly terrible thoughts. Not all of them ice cream related. One specifically comes to mind, because it can be posted on the internet without having anyone in a white coat come to my door.

It was one of those moments where you suddenly think, what if this is as good as it gets? You know, like Jack Nicholson, only taller.

I was reading a story of Microsoft’s latest attempt to control the release of bug discovery. Moving from ‘responsible disclosure’ (which I personally thought was a quite a brilliant piece of propaganda speak, anyone who didn’t follow our responsible suggestions became automatically irresponsible) to a new regime they are calling ‘coordinated vulnerability disclosure’. It could just be me, but it seems a lot more limp and not nearly as punchy. My immediate thought was ‘design by committee’. Anyway, as I was reading this, a thought crossed my mind - you know we never had these problems in the olden days. They tell me memory has it’s own rose colored glasses, but I don’t remember the Eighties as a time where we sat around wringing our anxious hands about how best to manage the disclosure of how crappy the engineering of software products was.

What changed?

Maybe it’s like the moment when the public twigs to how the magician does the trick. In the flash of a moment the penny drops and what was cool and clever becomes neither. It’s just been there, seen that - I know how he does it. The magic is gone. It’s a horrible thought and it’s a huge deal for our industry.

I’ll tell you why.

It means we’ve lost the attention of our audience. You know, those daily users of all this technology that suppliers patronizingly call ‘punters’. Suddenly describing how literally millions of electrons are zooming around inside, being converted from magnetic charge to electrical signal to LCD light draws nothing more than a yawn. And without that easy distraction the wonder is gone. Without that wonder they don’t feel special just to have one on their desk.

I know I’m right when I see the consumer avalanche that is Apple computer. When I look around for who stole the wonder - it’s those boys. Apple have become the kings of wonder.

Without the warm glow of wonder to bask in all that’s left is the cold light of day. In the cold light of day what were exciting new frontiers fade to become badly designed menu systems and annoying administration hassles. We become like a bad movie that doesn’t quite achieve the suspension of disbelief. I tell you, it’s no coincidence that Captain Kirk finished the series still charging into the final frontier because what follows the frontier is deeply depressing to those of us inside the starship IT Industry.

If you believed the press articles you’d think Cloud Computing was a hero on a white horse coming to reinvent the industry and deliver us from evil. However maybe the horse analogy is closer to the horsemen of the apocalypse. Cloud computing and outsourcing are just fancy ways of saying ‘get someone else to do it’ but let’s look beyond how pretty that new frock is and think about what it really means.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely a place in life for getting other people to do stuff for you. Some stuff is made so complex you couldn’t possibly do it yourself - like tax for example. Other stuff you don’t want to do yourself under any circumstances, like unblocking the sewer. But getting other people to do everything doesn’t make any sense. I’d love a chauffeur to drive me everywhere right up until I get the bill because it’s eye wateringly expensive. Even getting someone else to mow the lawn costs more than if you do it myself.

Ultimately, the limit to getting other people to do things is always about the money. Once you outsource something that I am paid to do you aren’t outsourcing administrative problems - you’re outsourcing me. An old but clever way to say - you’re out of a job. Either that or the job has changed; which always means you’re worth less.

So the slippery slope could look something like this; anything that is slightly complex or politically embarrassing or hard is a hassle. Anything that is a hassle get’s sent out for someone else to do. The list of things IT does gets sliced away like a salami until all that’s left is a glorified helpdesk for users who, twenty years after the PC revolution, still haven’t worked out how to print.

On the supply side, the expected savings never materialize, because getting other people to do something by definition costs more. So delivery costs and service levels are driven into the ground causing industry consolidation until Google and Microsoft own everything. Even if companies wake up, it’s all too late because nobody in their IT department has any experience or skills to run anything other than a helpdesk.

And all those clever boys and girls who changed the world end up having to get jobs unblocking other peoples sewers.

We could be living through the end of the golden years of our industry. I hope I’m wrong.

Posted by Carlton Duston on 27 Jul 2010
Tagged with Blog, News

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