After attending the Salesforce.com “Tour de Force” launch event for the Force.com platform in San Francisco yesterday, it became overwhelmingly clear that the entire concept of the Information Technology function is transforming faster than I had envisioned. The interesting part about the acceleration of the proverbial “paradigm shift” that is occurring is that its epicenter is the one IT stronghold that seemed to be the most untouchable – infrastructure.
It took some time to get my head around the implications of the “Platform as a Service” message that Salesforce was promoting, but Ben Pring from Gartner did a masterful job of painting a picture of the future over the near term and the long term with his presentation to drive home what looms on the horizon for the corporate IT function as we know it today. We have already seen a decline in IT’s influence since the first wave of Internet euphoria waned in the early part of the decade, but what is staring us in the face right now is nothing less than an inflection point that will determine the long term survival of IT departments.
The first cracks in the IT foundation began to appear after, ironically, the capabilities of the Internet that were enabled by IT began to erode the informational advantage that IT had held during the heyday of the 1990’s. With the “man behind the curtain” all but revealed, and with post-dot com IT budgets slashed, IT was forced into the “Do More With Less” era of digesting the purchases from the gluttonous 90’s and keeping the business running on a relative shoestring. Hamstrung by ongoing operational requirements, IT then encountered the slippery slope of having to meet increasing business demands for technology that were precipitated by the maturation of IT as a business enabler, but with little or no increase in IT capital investment. To pile on, the recent “consumerization” of technologies that were once the exclusive domain of IT, and the exponentially increasing savvy of corporate IT consumers is exacerbating IT’s plight. Unfortunately, Salesforce.com’s introduction of the Force platform looks like it will all but sound the death knell for the traditional IT delivery and management model that has been developing for the past 20 years.
The paradox of this entire situation is that IT has the potential to be more important now than it ever has been in the history of the function within a business context. This is the inflection point – the capabilities of IT are reaching a level where the potential to transform and drive business performance is staggering, but the capabilities of the IT function need to shift dramatically to embrace and harness the power of this new wave of technological innovation. Salesforce.com’s delivery of “Platform as a Service” as the logical evolution to “Software as a Service” has changed the game forever; if IT organizations choose to accept the new rules of the game, the business value of IT is beyond what we saw when the Internet was first introduced as a business enabler. If IT chooses to vigorously defend traditional territory such as infrastructure that is now moving beyond the walls of the organization and becoming a commodity service, then business will have no choice but to leave the legacy models behind and embrace a new way to mange the business of IT.