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Problems faced by IT industry
In information technology, it is easy to cite examples of companies and individuals who have triumphed over threats. Knowing what issues you face is the first step in dealing with them. Ignoring threats is playing the Russian Roulette.
WORKING IN IT (the information technology sector) seems to be a constant game of “two steps forward and one step backward”. And that’s on the good days. On other days, it’s most definitely one step forward, two steps backward and you trip over because you didn’t see somebody sneaking up on you and that somebody treads on your face while you are lying on the ground.

Thinking about the problems faced by the IT industry, the following are noteworthy:

1. The stifling innovation: IT almost by definition is about innovation; the only constant in this industry is change. The industry is worth more than USD 2.5 trillion annually worldwide and yet faces constant attempts to thwart its success.

Whether it’s the lies of the entertainment industry or the cynical people designing business strategies around patents rather than actual innovation (or even work) or companies spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about its competitors or companies pursuing increasingly spurious lawsuits to “protect” their businesses, it has the same effect. Comparatively tiny vested interests are threatening the continued growth and prosperity of the vast majority, until we stop seeing this rubbish as “good business” and recognise it for what it is - a shakedown, everyone’s future is at risk, that is.

2. The obsession with technologies and methodologies over results: The fundamental disconnect between a technologist and a business person often narrows down to focus. We geeks love our gadgets. A Southern Baptist preacher ain’t got nothin’ against a hardcore geek evangelising about his favourite technology. Here’s a hard fact for many IT people: The right technology is the one that gets the job done. The average business person has no interest in the programming language, operating system, hardware or methodology that you believe is the one true path to the promised land.

That’s if you’re lucky - in my experience, there’s nothing worse than a business person who has arbitrarily decided that one technology is better than another. If you’re convinced that your favourite technology and methodology is the best, prove it with results, not rhetoric. Religious arguments are bad enough when they’re about religion; elevating technology to the level of religion is counter-productive and downright scary.

3. Arrogance: Here’s a tip - if you’re trying to explain technology to someone and they don’t seem to understand, treating them like they’re stupid isn’t going to help anyone, you, least of all. It doesn’t matter if they really are stupid; the IT industry’s reputation for arrogance has been earned by the frequent display of grossly unjustified arrogance by many IT practitioners. And if you think arrogance makes you “strong”, just stay the hell away from me. Besides making an average (non-arrogant) geek’s life miserable, quite a few major companies have been destroyed due in no small part to arrogance.

Napster probably should have been a huge commercial success; it could have opened doors for huge new revenue streams for record companies and artists. But Shawn Fanning’s extraordinary arrogance turned him into his greatest potential customers’ mortal enemy. It’s true that the record companies seem to be controlled by greedy old guys who run their business like the mafia. They might have gone after Napster if Fanning had been as sweet as pie but his attitude in the early days had pretty much sealed his fate. By the time he had been sufficiently coached to act like a grownup, it was too late.

4. Hype over substance: There’s no getting around it - IT is exciting. The rate of change and the explosion in computing power have opened so many possibilities; it’s dizzying, sometimes literally. It seems that “irrational exuberance” is an occupational hazard in IT. Sure, it’s a great way to get media attention and investment capital but it seriously hurts your credibility if you can’t deliver on the hyperbole.

Have you ever noticed that over-hyped “world-changing” technologies almost always fail utterly? (the Segway springs to mind). And the truly life-changing things seem to sneak up on us. In retrospect, we can see how great they are but they weren’t heralded by trumpets from the heavens. The iPod was unveiled as a great product but I don’t recall outlandish claims about how Apple would sell millions, create an entire new market and essentially rejuvenate the entire company with a mere portable music player. If Jobs had introduced the iPod by predicting the sales figures Apple would actually achieve in the years since, he would have become a public laughing stock.

5. Constantly focusing on “the now”: While IT development is arguably about creating the future, I’m always astonished at how many colossal blunders are perpetrated by thinking only about the present. The Y2K issue was created by programmers deliberately introducing an appalling limitation into systems essentially because it wasn’t a problem for them - someone would fix it in the future. Arguably, this turned out to be true but this issue is a perfect illustration of how short-sighted thinking in IT could have long term consequences.

This can also be seen in how people tend to discuss the current stars in the IT environment at any given time. The number of discussions running rampant at the moment about the disproportionate power of Digg is utterly ridiculous. Digg came out of literally nothing a very short time ago. The very fact it exists and has achieved prominence so quickly is evidence that Digg is likely to become irrelevant in the long term. There is every possibility that a different and better service will eclipse Digg in the future. But far too often, analysis of this topic seems to be based on the idea that the status quo of today will never change. Because Digg (or YouTube or MySpace or even Google'>Google) is so dominant today, they will always be dominant and it’s pointless to even try to compete with them. This simply isn’t true but you hear it again and again.

For each of the above examples it would be easy to cite examples of companies and individuals who have triumphed over these threats (and hopefully people will provide some in the comments). The fact that these threats can be successfully fought doesn’t invalidate this article and that’s the whole point of the article. Knowing what issues you face is the first step in dealing with them (that’s the analyst in me talking). Ignoring threats or worse still, being totally ignorant of the threats you face is playing the Russian Roulette. And sooner or later you’re going to spin up the wrong chamber.
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