The end of the IT department

37 Signals comments on a trend I’ve been noticing for a few years. Data centers and IT departments are not the core competency of most businesses, they are a requirement of operating the business. Or, at least, they have been for the past thirty years or so. Businesses are now seeing the benefits of moving what they are not good at, controlling IT, to what they are good at, which is whatever makes them money.

You no longer need a tech person at the office to man “the server room.” Responsibility for keeping the servers running has shifted away from the centralized IT department. Today you can get just about all the services that previously required local expertise from a web site somewhere.

via: The end of the IT department - (37signals)

John Gruber from Daring Fireball has a comment that matches what my thoughts have been when I try to explain the consolidation I see in the sysadmin field:

Certain of the comments on Hansson’s post remind me of this quote from Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

I’ve even heard that virtualization technologies and cloud services will provide more opportunity for sysadmins. That makes little sense to me. People are assuming that the work in the future will be just like the work of the past. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of work, especially work that revolves around technology. It grows, it changes, it merges into new things. Consider the iPhone.

Disruptive technology changes things, and the iPhone was, and continues to be, disruptive. It is powerful, both in means of hardware capacity, and the operating system and software that it runs. How long will it be before the iPhone, or one of it’s many competitors, completely supplants laptops as the computing device of choice for people? I imagine a future where you dock your phone to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse and use it as your one and only computer. I don’t think its too far away. When that happens, how much need will there be for a traditional IT department?

Software is becoming simpler and easier to use. Hardware is becoming more reliable, and longer lasting. And, most importantly, harder to break. This comment from the 37 Signals post stood out to me as a common misconception in the IT industry:

I’ve “done” IT for multinationals and startups, and the thing that is most obvious, is that if you leave the kids alone with their toys, you end up with a network which hardly ever works, more viruses than you can count, the mail server acting as a spam relay, the company being raided by FAST , the fans overheating in the PCs, the aircon never having been considered in the server cupboard, the backup plan being a mystery… need I go on?

No, you need not go on. Because every single argument stated is a symptom of the Microsoftian workplace. A computer on every desk, and every computer running Windows. Since Windows is easy to break, people break it. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Over the years people have been trained to “click here, and here, and once a week here, but no where else or you’ll break it”. People don’t need to become smarter about computers, computers need to be easier for normal people to use. When they are, when the computer is as simple (or, is) an iPhone, the need for things like anti-virus and defragmenting schedules, and wallpaper policies go out the window.

Desktop support departments are a symptom of misguided use of technology in the workplace. What is the purpose of that Dell on your desk? To assist you in performing whatever task your job really is. Perhaps if you break your tools, you are not really fit to be doing the job in the first place. If you don’t understand your tools, how can you be really good at what you do? Would you hire a carpenter who doesn’t know how to use a jigsaw?

Change is coming. I can feel it, see it on the horizon. Between web services, increased business specialization, and incredibly small and powerful computers, there is a shift in the culture of work brewing.

Alex Payne from Bank Simple sees it

Finally on the technology front, we’re deploying into Amazon’s cloud. Our information security architecture allowed for this even before Amazon announced PCI compliance; their support for these more stringent security standards is a happy bonus for us. Using AWS today is a no-brainer, particularly for an operation of our modest scale and performance requirements.

They are a bank, and they are gong to be using Amazon’s AWS. Independently responsible employees, outsourced data center, and no IT department. How long will your business hold on to the ’90s mentality of what IT needs to be.