Customers have been looking for service providers to bring in transformative technology and services in the IT-services industry. Tactical and strategic transformations are the future
The world has been witnessing rapid technological growth in the past few decades. Computing power and storage are becoming cheaper, faster and smaller in size. Communication networks have become more robust and reliable with increased bandwidth and speed. Development technologies, software packages as well as methodologies have been continually modernised. All industries that are heavily dependent on IT are in a race to keep up with technological changes. IT services companies are no exception to this. They face the same challenges in modernising themselves and helping their clients to reimagine technology to accelerate business. While this has been the general trend, the IT services industry has been going through significant changes which have parallels in other industries.
Let us examine skill specialisation and division of labour. Till the early 90s, most IT professionals did almost all the life cycle activities with very little role separation, be it in the applications area or the infrastructure area. Over a period of time, the industry gave rise to many specialised roles such as user interface (UI), business logic, back-end development, functional and non-functional testing. And in infrastructure and other areas of IT, often deploying professionals with skills in just one specialised area is visible. Many organisations have realised that there is a loss of efficiency inherent in such a division due to increased coordination efforts. The pendulum is swinging back where IT professionals are required to be multi-skilled and be generalists before acquiring specialised skills in fewer areas.
Over the past decade, customers have been looking for service providers to bring in transformative technology and services in addition to providing standard application or infrastructure management services. The need of the hour is to provide both tactical and strategic transformations. The tactical changes are mostly IT-related, requiring very specific knowledge of the customers’ applications and systems. The strategic transformations require deep industry and technology expertise. The effectiveness of these transformations depend on the change management in customers’ own IT organisation and the co-operated efforts of the customer and the service provider. The current examples of these transformation are DevOps, Cloud, Microservices based application developments et al.
Many organisations are leaning towards packaged solutions rather than bespoke development. While enterprise resource plannings (ERP) and their vertical specific implementations have been in vogue for a few decades, specialised industry solutions such as for banking, insurance, retail, education et al are gaining popularity, given the availability of stable and robust products. This has been a growing trend over the past decade or so, and IT services companies are partnering with product vendors to implement and support those products.
It is a known fact that IT along with its services is not just a contributor to the growth of other industries, but has become an enabler and an integral part of all the industries. Over the time, many companies in various industries — publishing, automotive, insurance, banking, to name a few, started identifying themselves as technology companies, treating technology on par with their core products.
While the bare-bones of a company’s product could be very similar to those of its competitors, it is the software that controls the behaviour of the product in the operating environment, enriching the user experience, and thereby, providing the necessary differentiators. The IT services industry also embraced concepts from the industry especially from manufacturing and services industries.
Examples from manufacturing are lean manufacturing and value stream mapping. IT services industry adapted both of these concepts into the Agile DevOps based application development and support services. This greatly helped the IT services companies to provide products and services with higher accuracy and speed by reduction of rework and waste. IT services companies learnt a lot on good customer service from banking and financial services, retail and a few other industries, in turn helping themselves to be customer-centric with needed velocity, flexibility and innovation.
Lastly, artificial intelligence (AI) is bringing disruptive changes to the world as a whole, IT services industry included. Of course, IT services companies are the ones who learn, develop and implement AI solutions to transform businesses with the help of robotic process automation, natural language processing, image recognition, voice recognition and machine learning (ML). In addition, these AI technologies have the potential to automate and transform the core IT activities. IT professionals have been performing many mundane and repetitive tasks in providing services, be it in the applications or infrastructure area. Many of these can be automated using AI. Examples are software testing and ML based algorithms for incident prediction.
Clearly the IT services industry has gone through phenomenal changes over the past few decades. The nature of these changes around division of labour, transformational services and technology disruptions are very similar to the changes that have been occurring in other industries. But, the one area that shall remain constant is the fundamental nature and attitude of service companies of being a trusted partner, a trusted advisor and always being available. Services companies that give paramount importance to this will be the ones to survive and thrive.
(The writer is Chief Technology Officer, HTC Global Services)