It’s hard to believe, but it’s almost been 13 years since Nicholas G. Carr wrote his famous essay, “IT Doesn’t Matter.” In that column Carr argued that IT had become so pervasive in enterprises and so widely used that it had essentially become a commodity and was no longer useful as a tool for business differentiation.
“Behind the change in thinking lies a simple assumption: that as IT’s potency and ubiquity have increased, so too has its strategic value. It’s a reasonable assumption, even an intuitive one. But it’s mistaken. What makes a resource truly strategic—what gives it the capacity to be the basis for a sustained competitive advantage—is not ubiquity but scarcity,” Carr wrote.
If that sentiment was accurate then, and I wasn’t convinced it was at the time, it’s not accurate anymore. Today, how enterprises are building and implementing IT is a clear differentiator when it comes to delivering apps business users and customers need and want, built and designed in ways they want to interact, and delivered in a timely manner.
According to a recent report published by Salesforce, “2016 State of IT,” IT leaders are focusing on mobile apps, migration to the cloud, as well as building adequate cybersecurity/incident response, customer-facing digital apps and productivity apps. The report found that 68 percent of respondents said that they are increasing their budgets on mobile apps, cloud and security. The lion’s share of respondents also plan to increase their budgets allocated to cybersecurity (63 percent) while 62 percent will spend more on employee productivity apps.
The report survey, conducted at the end of 2015, is based on responses from 2,255 CIOs and IT leaders from within the United States, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Japan, France, the United Kingdom and Germany. One of the first things to leap out at me from the results is, based on my interviews with many enterprise users, this increased focus on mobile apps and employee productivity apps will certainly be welcome in most enterprises—mobile app backlogs are a problem in many organizations today, as we covered in “Make ‘Mobile First’ an Innovation Strategy,” “Mobile App Development Will Soon Grow More Enterprise-Focused,” and “For More Mobile Wins, Enterprises Must Find their MVPs.”
As IT leadership had to do in every other transformative period (and cloud, mobile, data analytics are all transformative) such as the displacement of mainframes by PCs in the 1980s, the rise of the local area network and the arrival of the commercial web in the 1990s, IT is at the center of business strategy. CIOs and IT leadership need to make sure they get themselves out in front of these trends and align the services technologies they are delivering with what their users need. According to the report, this need for IT to drive innovation is forcing leadership to rethink their IT organizations. And, as a result, according to the “State of IT” report, to help address this, 60 percent of enterprises now have a relatively new position in the chief digital officer.
Of course, as this push by enterprises continue, the competition for talent heats up. According to the “State of IT” report, the IT skills demand gap is widening: there just isn’t enough talent to go around. I expect this to grow worse as these enterprise budgets for mobile apps only continue to grow in the years ahead. And one-third of those surveyed in this report said that they are having a painful time keeping skills relevant with emerging trends in cloud, mobile and data analytics. Seventy-two percent say talent/IT skills development and training will be absolutely critical or very important for their team in the next five to eight years.
According to this eWeek story, “How the Skills Gap Is Threatening the Growth of App Economy,” while nearly 80 percent of respondents of a CA-sponsored study, “The Battle for Competitive Advantage in the App Economy,” said that becoming a “software-driven enterprise” is a top priority, the biggest challenge they have in realizing that goal is the skills shortage. The top four critical skills in that survey close resemble the findings in the “State of IT” survey: data science, collaboration, DevOps and APIs.
The research firm Gartner predicts that by the end of 2017 demand for mobile app development services will grow no less than five times faster than the capacity of internal IT organizations’ deliver mobile apps. With steady mobile phone sales continuing to fuel demands for enterprise mobile apps, the result will be, according to Gartner analyst Adrian Leow, that enterprises will have a hard time rapidly developing, deploying and maintaining mobile apps to meet demand because of the scarcity of developers with good mobile coding and development skills.
“Organizations increasingly find it difficult to be proactive against competitive pressures, which is resulting in their mobile apps becoming tactical, rather than strategic,” Leow said in this statement. “We’re seeing demand for mobile apps outstrip available development capacity, making quick creation of apps even more challenging.”
IT leaders are also seeing demand outstrip supply of those with skills in IT security and data engineering and data science—and there’s no sign of a letup in any of these disciplines. Considering all of that, and what Carr write 13 years ago, parts of IT may very well have become commodities—especially at the infrastructure layer of the IT stack. Just don’t try and sell that view to anyone trying to clear their mobile app backlogs or get the most value out of their data today. They’re too busy trying to keep up and hopefully innovate a little to have time to listen.