Passing the Five-Year Test
Measuring a year in the life of the public-sector IT community.
The genius behind Father Guido Sarducci's 5 Minute University was that he did not try to predict the future but set his sights on the few things one remembers five years after college graduation. The premise behind the old Saturday Night Live sketch is a useful guide to deciding what really mattered from the year just past. As a farewell to a rough-and-tumble 2003, here is a first cut at the five things we will remember in five years:
1. Penguin Shakes Up Software Shakeout
Fortune magazine's recent designation of HP CEO Carly Fiorina as the "Most Powerful Woman in America" for the second consecutive year confirms her resurrection as first mover in the consolidation of the hardware industry after a bruising but successful merger. Not surprisingly, the software industry followed suit this year -- witness the sometimes unseemly scrap between Oracle and PeopleSoft (even as the latter acquired J.D. Edwards).
The beginning of the consolidation in software comes when Linux is morphing from its organic roots to a more commercial platform -- creating the potential for the curious confluence of fewer choices from larger players, a new alternative for the independent-minded and the destabilizing effect of instant (if unplanned) obsolescence for the losers.
2. Communities of Interest Redefine Collaboration
Collaboration is a perennial favorite in both IT and business strategic plans, but is often bogged down by things over which nobody at the table has control or are perceived as a threat to the data sovereignty of would-be collaborators. Three things coalesced this year that promise to change the landscape: networked technologies made it possible; budgets made it necessary; and there was more strategy in collaboration strategies. Discounting the tradition of good of the order initiatives, enlightened self-interest is causing formerly discrete entities to work together in new ways -- not on everything all the time, but in those areas where mutual aid results in mutual benefit.
3. IT Jobs Defended Against Offshore Juggernaut
A number of readers reacted angrily to the June 2003 signal:noise, which suggested the inevitability of offshore content in government software development projects. They did not argue with the analysis as much as what they saw as its cold and uncaring tone. If the ink had not long since dried, a rewrite would have paid more attention to the human impact of job loss. A fair rereading of the column would find more common ground than may have been apparent the first time through. A country committed to global trade cannot protect all jobs -- not even all jobs in an attractive sector such as IT -- and should focus on the high-value jobs that power innovation. Moreover, the effectiveness of networked collaboration means we may care about where code gets cut but increasingly will be unable to tell.
4. Unpaid Bill for Information Security Comes Due
Security is the unpaid bill of the public-sector IT community, although a growing number of government entities made a hefty down payment in 2003 as they returned to a core (if sometimes neglected) IT discipline. They updated their security policies, standards and guidelines; established annual audit requirements, tested their resiliency and disaster recovery capacity; and collaborated with their neighbors in mutual aid arrangements through incident analysis and response centers. Their best-laid plans got a workout during a variant-plagued week of malicious code in August -- foreshadowing the ugly possibility of multiple, simultaneous attacks. Despite the spike in activity, the payloads remained relatively benign -- which is probably more than can be reasonably expected in the years ahead.
5. Pent-Up Demand Builds Behind New Baseline Budgets
The public-sector revenue recession has not yet been declared over, but balancing budgets over the last five years has established a new baseline against which pent-up demand already has begun to grow. Consider that the number of IT-related RFPs issued by state and local governments in the first six months of this year roughly equaled all such activity in 2002. It is not a perfect indicator, but it does suggest a growing demand for things that can no longer wait. Though too early to be described as a fresh blush of optimism, it does indicate a long-awaited word may be returning to our vocabulary: traction.