Revised decade: reflections on the last 10 years in the technology industry

At the start of a new decade, some thoughts about the evolution of technological leadership over the past 10 years.

Image: Oakozhan, Getty Images / iStockphoto

As the calendar turns to 2020, like many of you, I can’t help pause and think about the last decade. I flipped back through my digital files, somewhat surprised to discover that I had written it
my first article for TechRepublic
in the summer of 2008, and read some of those messages in an effort to understand how the IT profession and those of us who lead it have evolved.

Some of the major themes, such as innovation and diversity, are still with us, while others such as “alignment” have happily disappeared from the vernacular. Technologies such as the cloud, for which I was skeptical as a technology, but with great excitement as a tool for streamlining IT, have moved from novelty to the standard approach to deploying infrastructure. Looking back over the past decade, here are some of the broad trends that have changed and remained the same with the introduction of 2020.

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Services are finally the standard

Ten years ago, the idea that you could build your entire business technology stack around services – reusable software components that could easily be integrated with other components – was not new. For most organizations, however, it was more an ambition than a reality. Large software companies talked about integration, but in reality it was still difficult and expensive. Leading the way with cloud computing, and most software is delivered through a web interface and largely device-agnostic, services and APIs are finally the standard way to deliver IT for many organizations.

We are still a long way from the long-awaited nirvana of allowing average users to string software components together to create ad-hoc business applications in a matter of hours instead of weeks, but this concept initially took the world of the theoretical and the reality entered.

IT has finally become ‘normal’ with most organizations, but it is splitting

Perhaps the biggest topic for IT leaders ten years ago was the concept of “alignment”: that IT leaders essentially had no contact with their colleagues in their company and had to constantly fight for a place at the leadership table. I have long claimed that any IT leader who worries about alignment or talks about the company as if it were a mythical entity that is rarely seen and understood even less, is unlikely to be a peer or valuable player by his or her colleagues considered, and fortunately these issues seem to be less common.

SEE: More from our Decade in Review series (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

Technology has irreversibly grown from the only province of the back office to a key element of the products and services of most organizations, and often a strategic and competitive differentiator. This transition continues a trend from earlier in the decade, with technology in some organizations breaking down between the core services “watching the light” in the back office, and technologies that powered products and transformational initiatives. In extreme cases, the CIO has become a utility player, while other functions such as marketing or product development receive the majority of a company’s technological spending. On the other hand, CIOs who have become brokers of technology services that enable marketing, product development and digital transformation, while the management of back office systems is passed on to staff or an external supplier.

As back-office systems become more and more commodities that can be purchased from a cloud supplier, the operationally oriented CIO seems to become less and less important and disappear from the executive ranks of many companies. Conversely, IT leaders who provide new platforms that drive products and services will become increasingly important. When you think about your career and the new decade, you decide how you want to align yourself and your career.

Connectivity and devices have finally become personal

Ten years ago, mobile computing was a hot topic, with everything from the arrival of the iPad to questions about whether companies should allow or should allow iOS devices on their network instead of the ubiquitous BlackBerry. WiFi was almost universal and mobile networks just got the coverage and speed to make everything possible, from remote work to early Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Fiery debates were still raging about the superiority of Mac OS versus Windows, whether Windows Mobile or Android would beat iOS and whether and how IT leaders should make mobile device standards mandatory.

After a decade, we finally succeeded in putting “personal” back into “personal computing,” and even my employer, an age-old, conservative accounting firm, offers end users a wide selection of smartphones and computers with multiple different mobile and desktop operating systems. With universal connectivity from coffee shops to planes, it’s no problem for me to view a document live on my iPhone in an airplane, with a colleague adding content on her Mac, while an analyst proves our work on his Windows desktop . What was once miraculous and difficult is now routine, to the point that I wonder if there is still a revolution in personal computing that we will see in the next decade, or we will continue to see incremental improvements, but remain largely married to our mobile devices and laptops.

Where are we going from here?

It has certainly been an exciting decade for IT leaders as technology continues to evolve, and the same goes for the CIO in most organizations, largely for the better. I hope that the next decade will continue to bring excitement and growth to your career as an IT leader.

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