Has The Glory Gone Out Of Working In IT?

Has IT Finished Growing So Fast?   (c) - 2007
Has IT Finished Growing So Fast? (c) - 2007

Why did you decide to go to work in the IT field? I can really only speak for myself, but there was a bit of glamour to the IT field when I entered it. Everything seemed to be so shiny and new and change was happening so fast that you just knew that this was going to be “the place” to be in order to have a great career. Is that still true or has something fundamental changed about our profession?

What Tom Siebel Thinks About IT Today

Randall Stross over at the New York Times ran across a speech that Tom Siebel (founded Siebel Systems, made Billions of $) gave to some Stanford engineering students about the current state of the IT industry.

Basically Tom said that he feels that IT has become a mature industry. He expects that going forward it will be growing at a rate that is no faster than the overall economy. What he was really saying is that he thinks that IT’s glory days are behind it. In fact, he thinks that the party was over as of about 2000.

What Happened To IT?

Siebel has gone back and run the IT industry growth numbers. It is his belief that there were about 20 years from 1980 to 2000 in which the IT industry experienced runaway growth rates that averaged out to about 17%.

Why has it all stopped? Siebel believes that we’ve accomplished what we set out to do: “the promise of the post-industrial world has been realized.”

Furthermore, Tom believes that what remains to be done really is not all that exciting(!)

Re-Looking At The Numbers

Stross reached out to Dr. Shane Greenstein at Northwestern University and asked him to relook at the IDC numbers. Good news for all of us working in IT, Dr. Greenstein has drawn some different conclusions about where IT stands than Siebel did.

It turns out that if you take a close look at IDC’s annual IT spending estimates, they show that there was a 11.6% spending rate from 1980 – 2000 instead of 17%. I’m not sure if this information is going to make you happy, but it does point out that Siebel’s numbers were just a bit off.

What was even more interesting about this second pass at crunching the IT growth numbers is that it turns out that the most golden years of IT were in the 1960’s. The reason that this was the best period of grow was because it was when the use of mainframe computers spread widely.  Way back in the years from 1961 to 1971 the compounded annual growth rate was 35.7%. That’s why IBM got to be so big!

Final Thoughts

Look, IT is (still) a great field to be working in. Yeah,  yeah if you look at certain reports it can look like the growth rate of the IT field is starting to go down. However, you need to remember something very important: declining growth rates over time are to be expected – it doesn’t take many sales to show huge percentage gains when the base is small.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to take comfort in the fact that when the economy recovers, there is no dearth of unfinished projects for IT. Now that’s going generate some serious growth in the IT field!

CIOs who believe that IT’s glory days are still ahead of it and who don’t get held back by reports of declining IT industry growth numbers will continue to look for ways to apply IT to enable the rest of the company to grow quicker, move faster, and do more.

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Too little time, too much to do. Does that adequately describe your CIO job? I don’t know about you, but often is the time that I’ve looked with envy at my peers who are great multitaskers and wished that I could be more like them. It turns out that I was wishing for the wrong thing – multitaskers actually do a lousy job at just about everything.

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