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Strategy Session: Farewell to the IT Brotherhood

What defines a successful IT organization--and, therefore, an IT professional--is changing substantially. I'm from the old school, where IT operations were as much a black art as they were a science. In those days, the notion of outsourcing was akin to self-emasculation. The IT domain was closed from the inside, and success was defined as delivering a good service that no one outside could really understand. For many, self-preservation meant keeping IT that way--mystic, and highly valued.

There were those around me who reveled in the mystic IT brotherhood (not too many women in the biz back then). If left to their own devices, they might have developed a dark Mason-like ritual for induction. Hooded preceptors in dimly lit rooms would have recited age-old indoctrinations as new members swore fealty to the brotherhood.

All your friends were brothers too. Not that you wouldn't have associates outside IT, but it was the ones on the inside who got your jokes, commiserated over the ignorance of the uninitiated and delighted in the rapid evolution of technology that kept the brotherhood elite. While I admit to laughing so hard that beer shot out my nose when someone said "megabytes" when they meant "gigabytes," the notion of the brotherhood is one I've never much liked.

Today's IT pragmatists are a different breed. In his column this month, Dave Molta refers to them as "informationists." I don't love the term, but I like his definition, which has a lot to do with good communication skills and understanding business needs, and less to do with an elite understanding of technology. It conjures an image of a CIO or IT director who has the guts to tell the CEO that the company can get better, cheaper service from an outsider. In his cover story, Andrew Conry-Murray does an excellent job of analyzing the financial considerations for software as a service, but perhaps the biggest inhibitor to adopting SaaS is one's ability to walk away from the brotherhood.

Of course, IT and its business partners must be careful not to trade one brotherhood for another. The service provider's operations should be transparent--beware those with secret rituals, veiled processes and black boxes. Unlike magicians, providers should always reveal their tricks.

If you're still unconvinced of the brotherhood's demise, look at our story on Linux distributions--where the primary concern and most important new feature is the ability to run Linux servers without the deep expertise usually deemed critical in Linux shops. What's particularly impressive is the open-source community demanding Linux be easy to use--it's the large Linux vendors scrambling to catch up.

The new age of IT is upon us, so what say we lose the cloaks and forget the secret handshake. It seems ... pragmatic.

Art Wittmann is editor in chief of Network Computing.