I only managed to attend two sessions at the third-annual Toronto Mesh conference this year, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday. Both were jam-packed, both featured high-profile speakers talking about business and technology, and neither offered anything remotely of interest to IT managers.
Not that Mesh sets itself up towards that kind of audience at all. If you look the event’s home page and scroll down to the “Who Should Attend And Why” section, you’ll see callouts to marketers, entrepreneurs, citizens and media people like me. The focus is on users, while MeshU, which happens the day before the main event, offers some specialized tracks on user interface design and experience for developers. It’s as though the company IT department – where applications get deployed, supported and aligned with the business – doesn’t even exist.
I’m not criticising Mesh in this regard. I think instead it’s a reflection of where Web 2.0 technologies are moving, at least among some organizations and vertical industries. The tools are cheap or free, don’t necessarily require a lot of data centre power, and can be managed by the department or individual employee without IT managers knowing anything about it.
The danger with this trend is what it means for the role of IT managers in the future. For years experts have been beating them over the head to try and figure out how they can contribute to the bottom line and make projects happen faster or better. If Web 2.0 technologies remove IT as a technical intermediary – and a lot of the programming at Mesh suggests they do – their role becomes more and more tactical. More like the kind of utility Nick Carr has suggested they will be.
In reality, of course, the growth of Web applications will require increased levels of sever uptime and availability, which is an IT department task. As Web 2.0 applications become more critical, they will need better security, which has rarely been the bailiwick of marketers and media, let alone citizens. The back end functions won’t all go away, but why should all the ideas and opportunities come from every department but the one that’s supposed to understand technology best?
When I walked around Mesh during the breaks I saw all kind of young, attractive, nattily-attired professionals who would not have looked out of place during the dot-com boom many years ago. These are the kind of people who come rushing into the meeting with a great proposal for a new Web site, widget or e-commerce campaign. They are also the kind of people who usually get frustrated when IT departments become a bottleneck, or in some other way rain on their parade. That needs to change. IT managers need to get excited about the possibilities, to seek out collaboration and get involved in these kinds of conversations. The Mesh tagline is “Connect, Share Inspire.” Whether they find a reason to attend the conference or not, those should be their goals, too.