The next big thing: Tools IT can use

Everybody in this industry seems to be waiting for something that may never happen again. That thing, of course, is a general turnaround in the economy that lifts all sectors. But when you think about it, the general lift in the economy that we saw for 10 straight years was probably an aberration. In addition, three giant macrotrends that lifted IT spending rates way ahead of the general economy are not likely to repeat themselves any time soon. First there was a massive run up in telecommunications infrastructure spending, then massive investments in infrastructure by corporate environments trying to prepare for any Year 2000 problems, and finally, wave after wave of large scale e-business investments.

IT people love it when such trends come together because they are like massive spending bills moving through Congress that every constituency gets to attach a rider to in order to fund IT infrastructure requirements. But today, the only big trends to ride are security and business continuity, which are being weighed down by the general malaise in the economy. And even as the economy begins to recover, it’s clear that the pace of recovery is going to be tepid at best.

Within large companies, this means that the only real source of revenue is the reduced budgets of the IT department. This is because line-of-business executives are avoiding any and all risk associated with multimillion dollar investments in new software initiatives, especially when recent studies indicate that more than US$400 billion in those types of investments has been wasted.

Ironically, most of the waste associated with those projects is directly attributable to the complexity that has been purposely built into enterprise applications. In the heyday of the economy, software vendors built their software in ways that helped maximize the billing hours of consultants because those consultants were the primary sales channel for the vendors. Today, the successful software vendors are those that write their software to make it easier for IT to deploy at a modest cost with a tangible ROI that can be achieved in less than 12 months.

Recently I was in Chicago for a conference on identity management sponsored by Oblix Inc. and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The number one issue that people at the conference had with Oblix’ identity management software was the installation and integration process. This, of course, presents an opportunity for PwC to make money, so it’s little wonder that PwC was excited about co-sponsoring the conference. But it is not necessarily in the interest of IT people, whose mission in life is to prevent those opportunities.

The next time you are asked to evaluate a piece of enterprise software, ask yourself one simple question: Was this software written in a way that increases my job security and gets me home at a reasonable hour, or was written in a way to enrich consultants at the expense of my organization? If the industry as a whole wants to see a turnaround, vendors had better start paying more attention to the needs of IT rather than the needs of consultants trying to create parasitic relationships with business executives.

Michael Vizard is editor in chief of InfoWorld and InfoWorld.com. Contact him at michael_vizard@infoworld.com.