Analysis: So, Where Do We Go From Here?

Mark Buchner

When I think about it, December 31, 1999 looks like a pivotal date--both as the start of the second millennium and also to mark a shift in attitude toward IT development. We in the industry have already become more introspective, and I see the trend continuing.

What is it about Y2K that has caused a greater reflection on past IT practices and future IT strategies? It centers, I think, on three main issues.

1. The enormity of business/IT interdependence is highlighted everywhere when a seemingly "minor" computer coding convention can convulse the entire industry. The Y2K phenomena has impacted IT budgets, spending, liabilities and project cycles for years.

2. The limitations of functional programming have become exposed. We have woven an intertwined and knotted web of spaghetti code. The result? Applications that are inscrutable, inflexible and not easily maintained. Business owners have finally realized the true costs of archaic legacy systems, of which most have now seen their last major development project with Y2K.

3. The vastness of the "Technology Gap" has been revealed. Now, just about everyone knows there is a disparity between the power of today's technology and what most businesses are actually using. Development tools and methodologies exist today that, had they been used years ago, would have reduced the Y2K problem to nothing and would have allowed business IT to leapfrog the competition almost effortlessly. Having said all that, the root problem is not the availability of the tools, but the lack of skilled professionals to integrate and use them.

As businesses reflect on these issues, I submit that:
  • Twenty-first century computing will see effective IT systems as the defining competitive element that differentiates the good from the great across all kinds of businesses. Businesses need to evaluate the role of IT for virtually every internal object and process and all business-to-business and customer transactions. The rise of the Internet becomes an epoch-changing event, permitting a level of business prosumption (the ability to work directly with customers and partners) unheard of before.
  • Businesses will finally embrace object-based analysis and design whenever they build or buy applications. Companies will want to have only the software they need, and have it embrace their business process (and not someone else's). They will maintain this software in ways oriented to what it does and not to how it is built.
  • Education becomes key as we close out 1999. Businesses need to address the IT skills gap in their organizations because the wider it is, the more it affects the ability to compete in the marketplace. This makes training a business imperative. Existing staff must be trained to use new technology and new staff must be trained to adapt to existing systems.
So, what are the next steps for the average business?

1. Take the time to do a technology "discovery" and have it supported through the highest levels of management. Take an interest in new technologies and brainstorm on new business opportunities that they will enable. Build a roadmap to transition your business pre-2000 IT to post-2000 IT.

2. Build new development processes which embrace object-oriented design. Transitions from today's functional programming to tomorrow's object-based design and programming are not at all straightforward. But, whether it's JavaBeans, COM, San Francisco or WebSphere, it all relates to the same new programming standard of the 21st century¾object orientation. Eventually, we will all be there.

3. Educate yourself on these technologies and tools and certify yourself to prove it.

  • The prototyping and productivity power of visual development tools (Visual Age for Java, Visual Basic, Lotus Notes, Visual Age for RPG)
  • The knowledge-based application infrastructure of Domino
  • The paradigm of OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) and the resulting world of Business Intelligence applications
  • The mechanics of HTTP serving, security issues associated with the Internet and XML/HTML
  • New project management methods associated with the applications and development methods of the 21st century
An easy place to start is the AS/400 Web site. Look there for education options. Also, download Astech Solutions’ "Post-2000" whitepaper.After all we've gone though in the past couple of years, I can comfortably predict those of us in the IT industry are ready to collectively smarten up and move on from here.