Simon Stapleton on "The Industrialization of IT"

Received an email yesterday from Simon Stapleton (blog and RSS Feed) with links to a few older articles he wrote about a concept that he calls “The Industrialization of IT”.   He asked if I thought they would be of value to my readers.

I skimmed the articles and immediately responded with something to the affect of “heck yeah….I’m always up for pointing people to good content!”

Now, I won’t be able to do Simon’s articles justice here, but I’d like to point to them and highlight a few key points from each.

The first article, titled “You Must Industrialize IT to Secure your Organization’s Future“, Simon introduces the concept of Industrializing IT.  To introduce the concept,  he writes:

In the 1800s, matches were made individually by hand, as were nails and pins. Each single item came out different. It wasn’t an industry – it was a craft. Since the birth of IT in the middle of the last century, IT has really been a craft too. IT service delivery wasn’t repeatable and scalable, even if we thought it was. In fact this served the workforce in the industry as it allowed us to create the perception of it being a black art that only a select few were able to deliver value, and with a high salary too.

Interesting setup for the reader.  It has been argued by many that ‘good’ IT people are ‘craftsman’ and hard to replace…but I beg to differ with the basis for that argument.  Good IT people are hard to replace, but the processes and systems they work within are not.  Give me a good IT person with a good process (i.e., one that allows the job to get done but doesn’t impede the worker), and they’ll run circles around a good IT person with a bad process.

So…IT Industrialization.  What is it? According to Simon, it is:

In IT terms, industrialization is:

  • People: Increased productivity; from Reactive to Proactive thinking; breaking old traditions (innovation); commercial behavior
  • Process: Repeatable, embedded processes; integration; service-levels
  • Technology: consolidation and rationalization; virtualization; transformation; automation with customization and high productivity
  • Governance: Standards and constraints that guide and enable

In other words, Industrialization is building out an IT organization that allows the people to use a repeatable process to do their jobs according to set standards.  Bingo.

In Simon’s 2nd article titled “Industrialization of IT Will Create a Blue-Collar Sub-Class of IT Workers“, he argues that certain types of IT workers (namely IT Operations) will become more blue-collar than white-collar.  I would agree with this….most IT Operations people are focused on delivering IT services according to a set standard….fits pretty well into the industrialization idea presented above doesn’t it?

Upon first glance at this article, I was worried that Simon was trying to denigrate IT Operations workers and downplay their importance…but after re-reading, he’s definitely not doing that.  His argument seems valid when he writes:

So over time, the current workforce of highly-skilled, highly-educated, diversely applied professionals will move on or out of these roles into management positions or analyst roles who design processes, to be replaced by cheaper, less diversely-skilled workers. This will create a significant global opportunities for work in IT jobs, as the entry-level will be lower. Outsource vendors, of course, will take advantage.

It’s important for me to stress though that the quality and cost of IT services provided by IT Ops functions will improve. I’m not suggesting that organizations will employ a rabble – but they will employ the right kind of person for the right job. You don’t need bright stars capable of many great things working in a rigid job. They will be the new managers and the people who design how the work should get done. Organizations will still need top notch IT professionals working out how best to solve common issues and opportunities and make the solutions scalable, repeatable and commercial.

I think we’ve been seeing that happen for a while.  The more experienced IT workers have been moved into roles that aren’t ‘standard’ and ‘repeatable’ and entry-level workers are more generally inserted into the lower level IT Operations roles.

When I look at service management systems/theories like ITIL, I get the sense that this is exactly what they are trying to do…create an Industrial Revolution within IT.  Is that a good thing?  I think so…as long as we all realize that there will always be a need for those people that can handle the ‘non-standard’ issues that pop up. 

IT isn’t always ‘standard’ and processes aren’t always applicable.  I like the idea of standardizing and ‘industrializing’ IT but let’s remember that the people involved need to be able to work within the process (and sometimes around it).

Jump over and read Simon’s articles (#1, #2) and let him and/or me know what you think about the,

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