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The Changing World of IT

Originally published August 21, 2012

Change happens at different speeds. Glacial change happens slowly, but occasionally we see a glacier calve a new floe. Geological change happens even slower. Only occasionally are we privileged to witness a volcano erupt or briefly feel the earth move as a result of an earthquake. In the world of IT, not even the fastest sprinters could keep up with the pace of change. Not only has IT changed rapidly in the past few years, but also IT continues to change rapidly.

Once upon a time, the world of IT was a world that built new systems and applications. We had development methodologies by Ed Yourdon and Tom DeMarco. We had HIPO charts. We had functional decompositions and Chapin charts. Look around today, and people that even remember what these things were are considered to be relics. These artifacts of a different age belong in a museum, for the most part.

Then we concerned ourselves with maintenance of systems and applications. Suddenly we stopped building new systems and started to maintain the old systems. Soon 99% of the IT department was doing maintenance. New development just disappeared.

At about this time, 4GL languages and the personal computer appeared. With 4GL and the PC, there was a new movement afoot. The end users were taking over their own destinies for development, and the IT department was relegated to whatever was left over. Soon after the personal computer made its appearance, there came the ubiquitous spreadsheet. Now that the end users were armed with the spreadsheet and the personal computer, IT was relegated even further back in the heap.

Somewhere along the line came the recognition that business requirements had changed (and were continuing to change) and that old legacy systems needed more than maintenance. Older legacy systems needed a full-scale overhaul. About this time, the world of data modeling arose, and people began to think in terms of the bridge between old systems and new systems. Then the discovery was made that old legacy systems were simply intransigent. Trying to make significant changes to older legacy systems was about as easy as trying to move dried concrete with a spoon.

Then somewhere in the mix came John Zachman with the notion that information systems had a strange resemblance to engineering. The Zachman Framework shed a perspective on how we should have built the legacy systems of years ago. Then came data warehouse, with the weird notion that there were fundamental differences between older operational systems and decision support systems. Along with data warehouse came the notion that an organization should have a single version of the truth – corporate data that was valid and true across the corporation.

In short order came data marts with the notion that different departments could have their own perspective of data. Data mart vendors loved to say that with a data mart there was no need for a data warehouse (because a data warehouse took a long time to build and data mart vendors did not want to have long sales cycles). Over time, organizations came to realize that a data mart was best built on top of a data warehouse in order to have a real architecture for corporate information.

Somewhere in all of this came Y2K, and organization after organization used ERP to erase the sins of yesteryear. (Or so the IT organization thought.) In most cases Y2K and ERP merely changed the form and substance of the sins of the past.

Then came the realization that textual data needed to be part of the mix with classical structured data. Much important textual data was needed in order for the corporation to make decisions on truly all the important data of the corporation.

What does the IT department look like today? It is nothing like the IT department of the past. Today the IT department is more like the conductor of a large, complex symphony orchestra. In an orchestra are many diverse instruments – drums, violins, horns, flutes, pianos, cellos, French horns and so forth. It is almost a miracle that anyone can ever combine these instruments into harmonious and beautiful music.

But that is the world of IT today.

  • Bill InmonBill Inmon

    Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.

    Editor's Note: More articles, resources and events are available in Bill's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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