Back in 1994 I wrote an ain’t-it-all-awful guest piece for InfoWorld. It listed ten IT trends that back then seemed to my younger self to exemplify everything wrong with our industry.
I recently re-read it. Some, to my gradually aged current self, seem to stand up pretty well. Others are more wince-worthy. But what the heck. Here’s my 2019 take on the same trends:
Trend #10: Consultants are now the source of all wisdom.
1994 Perspective: Given a choice between relying on its own staff and outside experts, management didn’t give itself credit for having hired the right staff.
2019 Perspective: This consultant should be the source of all wisdom.
But sadly, I’m not. The shift since 1994 is that the big analyst firms have taken over as the primary source. With few exceptions — McKinsey comes to mind — consultants are more likely to parrot the analysts than to express independently developed ideas.
Which is too bad, because while the analysts are in a better position to conduct research, too few have actually done the work themselves, where many IT consultants have.
Trend #9: Emergence of the Internal Customer.
1994 Perspective: I called this “… the most idiotic notion in the history of business.”
2019 Perspective: I was wrong! It has way too much competition. But it still falls, to be diplomatic about it, far short of “bright”.
In case you still aren’t persuaded, we cover this topic in depth in There’s No Such Thing as an IT Project.
Trend #8: Microsoft has become the new Japan.
1994 Perspective: In 1994, many in the IT industry figured Microsoft was as impossible to beat in IT as Japan had been in manufacturing in the late 1940s and early 1980s — the only way to survive was to sell to niches Microsoft was ignoring.
2019 Perspective: With the possible exception of Google in search and GPS, no one player dominates anything. That’s an improvement, even if product selection has become more confusing.
Trend #7: Evolution of client/server, part II: It’s soooo complicated.
1994 Perspective: PCs and LANs were, at the time, losing their charm in proportion to the cost and complexity of making them enterprise-application ready. It seemed to yours truly we should either find ways to extend the simplicity and appeal of the PC/LAN experience to enterprise application development, or not do it.
2019 Perspective: If there was a way to win this battle, nobody seems to have found it. Developing client/server, or, more accurately, n-tier, microservices-oriented application architectures and platforms, is more complicated than COBOL/CICS ever was.
Trend #6: Evolution of client/server, part I: SQL.
1994 Perspective: SQL was, I thought at the time, “… a cryin’ shame.” My point was … well, it really wasn’t worth making, I’m afraid.
2019 Perspective: Strangely, my fondness for SQL has increased as, over the past several years, the industry has shifted increasingly to NoSQL. That’s because I understand how to design a SQL database. I can’t even find a clear and coherent explanation of how to design a NoSQL database.
Trend #5: App is now a word.
1994 Perspective: Calling applications “apps” was, at the time, supposed to be cooler than speaking or spelling all four syllables of “application.”
2019 Perspective: As “app” gradually fell out of use I was grateful. Then Apple released the iPhone and the App Store, and “apps” were just like “applications” only smaller. I was okay with that.
But then speaking or spelling all four syllables became too much trouble again. We’re back to “App” being shorthand for applications of all sizes and scopes.
Sometimes, progress is temporary.
Trend #4: Architect has become a verb.
1994 Perspective: “Did you mean to say ‘design’?” I asked at the time. Verbing “architect” might have been harmless, but it was certainly grating.
2019 Perspective: Nothing has changed.
Trend #3: Free support now costs money.
1994 Perspective: “Do me a favor,” I said. “Print one number for use when your product doesn’t work as advertised. Print a different number for me to use when I need consulting support about how to use your product. Charge for calling that number.”
2019 Perspective: Google and various DIY sites mean never having to pay for how-to-use-it support.
Trend #2: GUIs are ushering in the end of the PC.
1994 Perspective: DOS PCs included lots of ways for mere mortals to experiment, explore, and innovate. GUI-oriented operating systems took these away, turning active participants into audiences.
2019 Perspective: I was right, for all the good it did. DIY tools for GUI environments are expensive, complicated, and for the most part violations of anti-shadow-IT policy.
Trend #1: Operating systems have replaced religions.
1994 Perspective: Windows, OS/2, MacOS, Solaris, and of course MVS all had proponents. Most figured people who liked something else better ranged from “misguided” to “complete idiot,” and their vendors from incompetent to evil.
2019 Perspective: We’ve mostly calmed down on this front, which is a good thing. Except that this might be because we’ve each mostly re-directed our tribal instincts in other directions.
Which isn’t a good thing at all.