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Locked Out/Locked In: Building Personal IT Success

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You've read the headlines: "IT Budgets Doomed!", "IT Recession Continues", "Worst Environment in 30 Years", "Hope Fades for IT Recovery in 2002." Everywhere you look, the options to refresh your flagging IT career seem to be dwindling.

If you're unemployed or a consultant, you feel locked out!

If you're one of the few lucky ones with a job, you feel locked in!

There's no question that the entire IT industry--from software and equipment vendors to programmers and business analysts--is suffering. Even IBM itself sees the challenges facing IT as problematic. What can we do?

Back to Business Basics: The ROI Blues

Perhaps the most poignant belief, held by IBM and others, is that the economic downturn that is facing IT can be remedied by getting back to business basics. IBM's business strategy during these bleak times is perhaps the premier example of this philosophy: "Give the customer (or the user) a better value for their dollar, and they will reward you with their business." IBM is currently using this strategy to bolster sales throughout its product line, offering fantastic deals in server consolidation and dusting off its aging Return on Investment (ROI) and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) statistics. These are the very same strategies that IBM used during the last major IT recession in the late 1980s--particularly in its fledgling AS/400 product line.

And indeed, from a market perspective, an ROI argument was exactly what the late 1980s required to sell AS/400s. At that time, tremendous competition, a proliferation of new PC technologies, and an economy interrupted by war with Iraq were all a part of a business psychology that drove many customers toward the sanctuary of an integrated business system like the AS/400. IBM saw that if a company's investments in hardware, software, and personnel were tallied, IBM could demonstrate that the AS/400 delivered the same services at a reduced cost over the life of the system. That was the heart of an ROI sales cycle, but it was a complex strategy: It leveraged IBM's reputation and required lots of IBM sales support personnel in the field to work with the customer to create cost-benefit analyses.

Yet, on the whole, that ROI strategy worked. Customers who were on the System 38 made the move, and customers on the System 36 begrudgingly opened their purses and began their slow migration. New equipment required new skills, and the demand for those skills helped to spur on IT recruitment and employment.

Many in the IT industry are hoping that this pattern will repeat itself.

However, although ROI and TCO business studies were robust sales techniques, in the late 1980s only IBM could afford the costs required to pull them off. The costs of dedicated sales support personnel nearly bankrupted IBM later, and the resulting historic IBM layoffs caused a massive transfer of skilled personnel from that organization into the general IT marketplace.

Today, even the tools for developing ROI analysis are sadly lacking within corporations themselves. Consider, for instance, a recent study by Ernst & Young reported in Computerworld. This study conducted between May and July of this year demonstrated that the majority of Fortune 1000 IT decision-makers recognize and embrace the concept of financial justification epitomized by ROI analysis. On the surface, this statistic should bolster the use of a "back-to-basics" economic argument. However, this same study showed that, although 79% of these IT decision-makers understood the concept, only 49% were actually conducting any business case analysis on their proposed projects.

New IT Jobs: Waiting for Godot

In other words, ROI is a really important tool that few organizations use today. Why? The authors of the Ernst & Young study surmised that the cause is a "lack of tools, resources, and time to conduct a full-blown ROI on most IT projects." Who could help these organizations build the ROI business cases today? Certainly not IBM, with its fragmented volume channels and its focus on Business Partner franchising. Today, there is no single entity in the marketplace that could repeat what IBM did for its customers in the late 1980s as a part of a sales cycle. Today, computer hardware is a commodity, and packaged systems are sold at volume prices. Who has the time and the money to chase after that level of business? So though there are today many parallels working within the business climate, the scale and the nature of the current economic recession is far worse. If IT is hoping for IBM to save the industry, it's going to be a long, fruitless wait.

Finally, today we're in a global economy in which the outsourcing of IT development is a growing trend. Furthermore, the IT industry has grown accustomed to acquiring new skilled labor through H1-B visas that allow credentialed IT candidates to arrive from a variety of countries. And though the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) projected a shortfall in personnel in 2002 as late as last May, its latest report shows a weakening hiring demand.

Build It and They Will Come

The other successful strategy employed to spur the industry during the late 1980s was the one that Microsoft, Lotus, and others used: cost-effective technology at bargain-basement prices. Microsoft said--and largely continues to say--forget about complex cost-justification analysis. A 50% solution is better than no solution at all, especially if it's cheap! Tomorrow will bring even better technologies and cheaper solutions! The technology marketplace itself will deliver the ultimate remedy!

And indeed, as a customer motivator, this market strategy reaped tremendous benefits and largely pulled the IT industry out of its doldrums. Unfortunately, however, the IT crash that we are currently experiencing is largely the result of the revolution brought about by cheap, simple technologies that have grown steadily more complex and steadily more expensive. That strategy has stampeded vendors and customers to a race to the bottom, looking for the least expensive way to deliver solutions while simultaneously keeping an eye on the next technology trend. Instead of solving business requirements, IT has wandered into a mire in which it seeks technology for technology's sake, and this mantra has seriously eroded our credibility within the companies where we work. Furthermore, although this "build-it-and-they-will-come" philosophy--riding on the back of technology advancement--still drives the majority of development dollars in the IT marketplace, a growing number of companies in the current recession have become highly skeptical that IT can really deliver any worthwhile solutions at all.

In an article in MC Mag Online last April entitled "Reining in IT Project Failures--The Case for Clearer Business Objectives ," John Knapp writes "large companies by and large had a rather disappointing track record for delivering IT projects that actually met the business needs they were originally intended to address." He goes on to quote a study conducted by the Standish Group: "...even when these projects are completed, many are no more than a mere shadow of their original specification requirements. Projects completed by the largest American companies have only approximately 42% of the originally proposed features and functions."

Is it possible that today's customers have witnessed too many broken promises, too many busted budgets, and too many unresolved complexities to fund further investments? Instead of chanting the mantra "I came, I saw, I conquered," it seems that management has come, has seen, and has left unfulfilled. When one stops to consider IT's disappointing track record, it seems doubtful that the Microsoft strategy of a "cheap 50% solution" will pull the industry out of today's IT recession when, in fact, it has historically delivered only 42% of its promises.

But what is worse, for IT professionals, is that management has lost confidence in IT personnel as a class of employee. Instead of viewing the skills of an IT employee as an asset, it seems to have relegated the entire department as an infrastructural expense. This change in attitude on the part of management is at the heart of the dilemma facing IT personnel who feel "locked in" at their jobs and is the reason so many unemployed and consulting IT professionals feel "locked out" of opportunities.

Measuring IT Professionals

Consider the experiences of two professionals who I recently interviewed.

Joan is employed by an international corporation at a west coast office. She has significant programming experience on multiple operating systems and software platforms. Though she started on the AS/400 in RPG, she's also worked for four years as an application developer in Java and has built substantial workflow systems using Lotus Notes/Domino. Her credentials are impeccable, and her work ethic is commendable. However, though she loves the challenge of programming, her current IT director has pushed her toward business analysis, taking her away from her technical roots. Though she likes her current employer very much--and feels fortunate to even have a job during these hard times--she feels "locked in" by the company's misunderstanding of her skills and feels uncomfortable that her technical skills are eroding. "I'd much rather be programming," she says. "I feel I'm being pulled further and further away from what I really understand and love. But, when I talk to recruiters, they tell me I should stay where I'm at. It's frustrating."

Jim, by contrast, is a professional consultant who has kept himself very profitably employed for the last 12 years. Though, like Joan, he started as an RPG programmer, he quickly determined that he needed to broaden his resume to include newer technologies. He completed many courses in other languages--including C++, Java, and Lotus Notes/Domino--and followed all the course guides to obtain certifications where he believed the industry was heading. Yet, Jim's primary client is a local city government that uses him for maintenance and enhancements on homegrown custom systems in RPG. "I'm really interested in all the talk about WebSphere," he says. "But, like all the other technologies that I've studied, there's no market for it in my area. Why should I invest in obtaining those skills when all my clients really want is a good RPG programming resource? I just hope my current situation lasts for another six years, when I can retire. I'd look for other clients, but I really don't need them now. I've already got too much of a backlog of work."

In both of these interviews, two things stick out. First, both IT professionals have made a substantial effort to keep their technical credentials brightly polished by acquiring significant training and work experience, while keeping an eye out for the "next big technology." Second, neither of these professionals are actually using their hard-won skills in their current environments. Instead, the management of the organizations for which they work have re-interpreted those skills and experiences to address the real needs of the organization--business analysis and legacy programming.

The point is that their real-world work experience in building and maintaining systems is of more value to their organizations than their paper credentials or their technical knowledge of new technologies. And while many of their colleagues at previous jobs--colleagues who had specialized in high-tech languages--are pounding the street, Joan and Jim have used their histories of real IT business success to obtain relatively secure positions. In other words, their legacy of IT success on legacy systems has provided them with a runway by which they can sustain themselves during these hard economic times.

In Joan's case, her role as an IT business analyst fills the niche that enables the company to see the value of new proposed IT projects--projects that may or may not get funded by her employer. In Jim's case, his flexibility to successfully work on legacy code turns him into an asset that is appreciated and funded by his client. In both cases, when IT momentum returns to the industry, the efforts they have taken to keep their skill sets current will probably give them a head start toward furthering their careers.

Projections of IT Recovery: The Days of Wine and Roses

At its recent Symposium/ITxpo 2002 conference in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, the Gartner Group identified nine trends that will enable resurgence in IT.

  1. Adding bandwidth will become more cost-effective than buying new computers.
  2. Most major new systems will be inter-enterprise or cross-enterprise systems, and IT managers will have to figure out how to cost-justify investments in such systems.
  3. Inter-enterprise systems will provide a macroeconomic boost to companies. This will have a clear and recognized effect on productivity.
  4. The consolidation of vendors will continue in many segments of the IT market. Half of today's software vendors will be gone by 2004.
  5. Moore's Law will hold true through this decade.
  6. Banks will become the primary providers of "presence services" by 2007.
  7. Business activity monitoring will hit the mainstream within five years.
  8. Business units, not IT, will make most application decisions.
  9. IT will recentralize activities to cut costs.

If the Gartner projections prove accurate, the IT world of the 1990s--a world driven by an ethic of "technology for technology's sake"--will become a fond memory of a fabled time when the cost of IT systems was no object and the business success of new systems was poorly measured.

Meanwhile, as IT professionals, we must prepare ourselves to be sucked back into the infrastructure of organizations to be employees focused upon the company's bottom line. By emphasizing how our skills have helped organizations in the past, instead of emphasizing burgeoning and arcane technical credentials, our real value to organizations will begin to be appreciated. Perhaps the days of wine and roses is over for IT, or perhaps--for many of us--they never really existed. Regardless, the real business skills that you have developed and that you are currently developing will never be more important than in the months and years ahead.

Thomas M. Stockwell is the Editor in Chief of MC Press, LLC. He has written extensively about program development, project management, IT management, and IT consulting and has been a frequent contributor to many midrange periodicals. He has authored numerous white papers for iSeries solutions providers. His most recent consulting assignments have been as a Senior Industry Analyst working with IBM on the iSeries, on the mid-market, and specifically on WebSphere brand positioning. He welcomes your comments about this or other articles and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Thomas Stockwell

Thomas M. Stockwell is an independent IT analyst and writer. He is the former Editor in Chief of MC Press Online and Midrange Computing magazine and has over 20 years of experience as a programmer, systems engineer, IT director, industry analyst, author, speaker, consultant, and editor.  

 

Tom works from his home in the Napa Valley in California. He can be reached at ITincendiary.com.

 

 

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    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.

     

     

  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.