First Generation IT (Information Technology) … is dead.

No one had to tell you when it was time to nix the second phone line you installed in your house dedicated to the yodeling box that gave you your first hit of internet access. The next generation broadband internet service showed up and we all moved on to our one-button configuration wifi routers with blazing fast connections allowing for seasons-at-time TV binges on Netflix. Do we even remember downloading Netscape 2.0? For 3 hours?

Rise of [depart]mentalism

Universities everywhere were becoming the spine of it all and the internet seemed like just some academic plaything; and so it was. But something else erupted about the time of our techplosion in the 90’s: the birth of the [business] IT department. On loan from the behemoth enterprises was the idea of that in order to maintain a competitive footing in the “new economy” copious dollars had to be spent on information technology and this meant hiring full time employees to build it. Big names from Dupont to the weather service had lab-coated techies shuffling around in hermetically sealed glass chambers since the 60’s so who better to draw inspiration from?

Then… IT got physical

And so it went with the furious effort to cable the planet. Remember Worldcom? Connecting cubicles and continents in less than a generation the foundation was laid for platforms of economic disruption and democratized education. But Web 1.0 and the first generation of IT was nothing if not a hands-on affair. While most of the hysteria was in the Silicon Valley dot coms, broom closets everywhere in all types of small to medium sized businesses from the mom-and-pop insurance agency to local factories, hospitals and banks were hastily transformed into the eponymous: “Server Room”. Years before there was such a thing as allowing for turn key purchases of standard PC configurations, IT departments became venerable workstation factories with shelves full of every computer component imaginable and enough cables in every denomination to supply fifty takes of the most famous scene of Gullivers Travel. Etching a technological footprint all of their own into the business model became the obsession of companies of all sizes. Weekend upgrades and expansion of servers and networks were the norm as were new PCs every twenty four months. Combined with Y2K the appetite for investment in information technology from 1995 to 1999 was downright ravenous at five times the rate of investment in any other type of business equipment or resourcea)1 Doms / The Boom and Bust in Information Technology Investment Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco 2004.

IT department of the 90’s = Studio 54 for nerds?

For almost a decade IT budgets represented the unquestionably dominant strategic investment. Toys, by the people who paid for them, were indistinguishable from tools. And the demand for first generation IT talent launched a labor market hyped into a lather over new careers with seemingly endless upward mobilityb) Company sponsored H1B visas were like pre-season baseball tickets. And because everyone was installing everything everywhere at the same time, the threshold for veteran status dropped like a stone. If you could spell PC, you could get a job on a help desk. This new career field became the darling of prognosticators of the “new economy”. It seemed like everyone had enthusiastically accepted a world run by computers and roofless opportunities for those who run them.

Would you like me to call you a cab, Mr. Gatsby?

We all know the rest of the story. The bubble burst in 2000 and so began a tech investment hangover lasting a year or two. What bounced back, was something different. Web 2.0, social media, and eventually smart mobile devices introduced a new, more grown up version of the frontier-like experience left behind more than a decade ago and set us on the course that led us to the truth about the world of information technology. It is this: IT was once a bespoke array of hand built machines by expert staff in a department on your payroll and controlled by handwritten scripts that Dr. Frankenstein might call quirky.  Today IT is a mature business service that is managed by a provider who delivers it as it is now known to be: a utility.



References   [ + ]

a. 1 Doms / The Boom and Bust in Information Technology Investment Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco 2004