Is the IT industry faltering because we have all just lost interest?

by Frank 15. April 2013 06:00

I have just read another IDC industry reporting talking about how PC sales have plunged 14 percent in the first three months of 2013. The report goes on to show that this is a worldwide trend, not just in the USA or Asia Pacific. Europe for example, was the worst with a 16 percent decline.

I also read lots of industry reports telling me how unsuccessful Windows 8 has been, much worse even than the dreaded Vista. Even Microsoft with its huge marketing budget has not been able to buck the trend. Apple also reports lower sales of its PCs and the report suggests they may have been cannibalized by Apple’s own tablets (how ironic).

Is it all to do with the ongoing world financial crisis? Do we blame the politicians and bureaucrats of Ireland, Iceland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and now Cypress for this massive fall off in PC Shipments? Or, as I surmise, are we all more than a little bored with the IT industry, its hype and the too regular platform changes forced upon us? Are we all jaded by a decade of too rapid and unneeded change?

I like Windows 7, it works, it is stable and it allows me to run all the programs I need for my business. Why would I upgrade especially as I am going to have to retrain all my staff and also have to upgrade a lot of the software and hardware I use? What compelling reason is there to upgrade to Windows 8?

Similarly, my desktops and servers are now 3 to 4 years old but I bought high quality Dell OptiPlex PCs and Dell Xeon rack servers and they are all still more powerful than I need and still working fine. When something occasionally fails I just pay Dell to fix or replace it. It is a lot less disruptive and a lot less costly than replacing everything. What compelling reason is there for me to suffer the pain and disruption of replacing my PCs and servers?

Of course the world financial crisis has a lot to do with the tumbling PC sales figures because most organisations are still cutting costs to maintain or grow profits. However, I also detect a sea change in attitudes among my peer groups and customers. We have had enough of constant change for change’s sake. Most of the people I deal with are now sticking by the old maxim of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

It looks like a lot of us have all lost interest in technology, we have even become bored and blasé about technology. So it is 10% lighter and 15% faster, “who cares?’ So it is prettier and has even more features I won’t ever use, “who cares?” There is another iPhone that is slightly bigger and slightly thinner than the last one, “who cares?” There is yet another update to Linux or Android, “who cares?”

I own and run a computer software company called Knowledgeone Corporation that builds and markets a range of enterprise content management software applications under the banner of RecFind 6. Because of this I am vitally interested in what is happening both with the ongoing world financial crisis and PC shipments because both affect my business.

Just like my customers, I am fed up with the industry trying to force feed me with new products that I don’t need and frankly, am just not interested in. I am the same as my customers, they just want my products to work day in and day out, 24/7, and do the job they were purchased for. They will buy maintenance because that protects their investment in my products but right now, most aren’t really ready to face or fund a massive change in their operation unless there is a damn good reason with a sound business justification.

I believe one of the main reasons PC sales are down, in addition to the world financial crisis, is because right now we just aren’t interested in new technology for technologies sake. We are more interested in running our businesses in the most cost effective manner and maintaining profitability. We are also tired of the IT industry trying to hard sell another ‘new thing’ every 3 years or so.

I don’t need new PCs, I don’t need new servers, I don’t need the next iPhone or update to Android. I think the world as a whole is now clearly differentiating between need and want and if need rather than want is driving the system then trying to woo us with faster, thinner, prettier technology just isn’t going to work. Frankly, I think we are bored with technology and all have more important things to think about like how to remain profitable and protect our companies and the jobs of our staff.

Maybe we are all waiting for the It industry to come up with something really, really interesting and really, really useful that will actually help us strengthen our bottom line? Now that would be something new.

What is the future for real IT professionals?

by Frank 21. October 2012 06:00

I own and run a software company called Knowledgeone Corporation that produces an enterprise content management solution called RecFind 6. As such, our business is the design and programming of complex, heavy-duty application software. This means that we do the hard stuff, including all of the invention, and that I need really clever and innovative and productive IT people (mainly programmers) to work for me.

I have written previously about how hard it is nowadays to find the quality of people I need, see my previous blog entitled “Where have all the good applicants gone?” However, there is an even bigger problem in our industry with an ongoing fall in standards that began way back with the Y2K problem in the late 1990’s as everyone panicked about the problem of date handling once the year 2,000 clicked over.

The problem was basically one of greed where emerging countries like India realized there was a lot of money in providing IT expertise and started mass-producing so called ‘experts’ and shipping them all over the world. Very soon a resume or list of qualifications or certifications was all that was needed to convince paper-bound and rules-bound bureaucrats that an individual had the prerequisite skills to either immigrate or be awarded a work permit.

And of course, young people in countries like India and Pakistan and the Philippines moved into the IT industry not because they were motivated by the prospect of becoming IT professionals but because it was their ticket out of poverty and an entry opportunity into countries like the USA, Canada and Australia. So, we started to fill up the ranks of IT professionals with people that did not have the aptitude or motivation, just a strong desire for a better life (and who can blame them?).

Greed raided its ugly head again as local executives linked bigger bonuses to lower costs and the Indian companies further reduced ‘real’ qualifications to increase the supply of experts. Universities also got in on the act, again motivated by greed (more students equals more income) and standards were again lowered to create  a production line mentality, “Just pump more out of the system, we can sell them overseas!”

The law of averaging applies and as you gradually increase the number of the less talented and less well qualified people into the talent pool the lower the ‘average’ standard becomes. It is analogous to starting with a glass of the best Scotch Whiskey and then gradually adding more and more water. After a while it isn’t worth drinking because it isn’t whiskey any more, it is just flavoured water. We have similarly diminished our IT talent pool (especially in the ranks of programmers) to the degree where the average programmer can’t actually program.

For a long while we imported tens of thousands of these less-than-adequate programmers and they filled up the holes in mainly large enterprises like banks and finance companies and the public sector where they could hide their lack of real expertise. However, and unfortunately for them, the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) has accelerated the growth of outsourcing (back to even less qualified people in places like India, Pakistan and the Philippines) and our recent immigrants are now losing their jobs to their home country-men. I find this ironic but maybe you don’t agree.

In another previous blog, the world according to Frank, I predicted a significant rise in unemployment numbers within our IT industry. I also said it has been happening for some time but that the real numbers won’t be clear until around mid-2013.

Greed will continue to drive the outsourcing phenomenon just as it will continue to drive the lowering of standards and the overall effect on our industry will be significant as the available pool of real talent becomes smaller and smaller. Similarly, local opportunities for real professionals are disappearing fast. Many of you will end up having to help justify your boss’s big bonus by approving software created overseas when it isn’t really up to scratch and many more of you will relegated to fixing the crappy code being delivered to your company from the outsourced incompetents. Not a good future for real professionals and definitely not an environment of high job satisfaction.

When I began as a programmer in the 1960s everyone I worked with was highly motivated and everyone had a high aptitude because it was such a difficult industry to enter. You had no chance of working for a mainframe vendor unless you scored at least an A+ on the infamous IBM or Burroughs or ICL or GE or CDC aptitude tests. We were a very small and very exclusive group and to my mind, a dedicated band of professionals who were in IT because we loved it and were really good at it. The average level of expertise was extraordinarily high and this is now patently no longer the case because our industry has changed dramatically since those early and halcyon days.

So what is the future for real IT professionals who are in this industry because they love it and are really good at it? Like with all things, I believe there is good news and there is bad news.

The good news is that as a true IT professional your value is higher but, probably much higher than the less-than-competent manager who is interviewing knows. This is because many incompetent programmers have now managed to become incompetent managers and this situation protects incompetent programmers but punishes highly competent ones. Basically, your manager isn’t smart enough to recognize how different you are to the average programmer in his team. This makes getting paid what you are really worth very difficult.

Ergo, if you are really good at what you do and want to be paid what you are worth and want to do challenging and satisfying work your only chance is to select a company doing challenging work and a smart manager to be interviewed by. Oh, and don’t select a company with a greedy CEO who is looking to increase his bonus by outsourcing (regardless of the result) and lowering costs to impress the board and or shareholders. Sounds like a tough ask to me, thank God I am self-employed.

Would I recommend the IT industry to any young person today in high school contemplating a future career? No I probably wouldn’t. I would probably recommend accountancy, business studies, medicine or dentistry instead. So where am I going to find the really bright, talented and motivated programmers I need in the future? This almost certainly doesn’t bear thinking about but maybe it is an opportunity as most problems are.

We need a new way to select and train IT professionals; the universities are simply not doing a good enough job. Is there anyone out there with the money, ideas and knowledge willing to set up a new kind of highly selective IT training program? If so, please contact me, I will be more than happy to be one of your first customers.

Month List