And now I wear the pessimist’s hat

I’m writing this on a Friday afternoon, but it’s a gloomy, rainy one. It’s a perfect backdrop for a quick look at what’s wrong with the IT industry.

In my previous, optimistic editorial, I conceded that vendors, Microsoft in particular, have made some big strides this year in getting serious about security. This is true, but mountain-like hurdles still remain before us. One is apathy – security software can ride a torrential river from Silicon Valley right into your IT department, but it makes little difference if the will to instil secure best practices in your workplace is absent. Figures show that roughly 85 per cent of our information architecture is owned by the private sector and for them, breaches are too often a matter of hide, conceal and ignore.

The other problem is even harder to tackle, and it represents perhaps the greatest stain on the industry. As it stands today, there is no incentive for software makers to get serious about flushing the bugs out of their products.

Simply put, the Klez virus alone cost businesses an estimated US$9 billion. And there’ve been many more worms since, and more (smarter, more powerful) on the way. Until vendors learn to stand behind their code in a serious, spurred-on-by-class-action kind of way, it’s likely you’ll have to make patching a full-time job.

Speaking of jobs – in my last editorial, I quoted studies that reveal your plans to spend more on IT in 2004, trends that will likely lead to more job stability in Canada. Though true, not everyone will see change. The hard fact is the industry is now beginning to walk down a well-worn path, one trod during 1980s and 1990s by the automakers, clothing retailers and other textile industries. That path leads to offshoring. Today, it’s clear that many large companies are looking seriously at outsourcing their IT trench work, particularly application development, to educated, certified shops in Europe and Asia. As many as one in 20 jobs by the end of next year, if Gartner is to be believed.

There’s no easy answer here. Careers experts have urged developers to work harder than ever before to emphasize their management and business skills – talents that are always in demand.

Another issue: being forced to look critically at the way IT departments spend their dollars has led many to reduce the number of platforms/equipment they deal with wherever possible. Often, that means getting much cozier with one or several key vendors. It’s possible to come out the winner in such an arrangement. But it’s just as easy to come out the loser. Locking into a vendor’s strategy is wise if that strategy makes sense, but the risk is putting yourself at the whims of the market forces they face.

Even if you don’t choose to lock in, the market may not leave you much in the way of options. In 2003, we said (or are still in the process of saying) goodbye to J.D. Edwards, Baan (again), SuSE, Handspring, Documentum, Brio, Crystal Decisions, Legato and Rational. This year’s biggest bid remains unresolved, as Oracle is still pursuing PeopleSoft. These days choice can quickly become academic.

But these are concerns best left for January. It’s time to enjoy the holidays. So from all of us at ComputerWorld Canada, have a very happy holiday season and a safe and healthy New Year

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