Macro Economic Implications on IT—Thou Shalt Adapt, or Perish

I think about things in my (upper) 40s that I never would have given much thought to a decade ago. Funny how age changes a person. There are really only two ways things can go for us IT folk over the next five to ten years, in my opinion, and I shall discuss both.

Bad: If the US Government, that bastion of moderation and intelligence, can't get a realistic resolution to the short term fiscal cliff issue (and the long-term debt issue), then there is really no way to forgo a large US recession, and unfortunately the rest of world is going to follow us down.

I'm betting that we won't fix anything, we'll only kick the can down the road again and hope someone else will fix it next time. Regardless, if we don't do something then we'll end up in the worst possible scenario—taxes will automatically go up, limiting the amount of spend available (contrary to political beliefs, raising tax rates does not raise the total amount of tax receipts), and government spending will go down, limiting the amount of industrial spend available. Since most of Europe seems content to let the US "fix" the problem globally, they aren't doing anything—but waiting. So when we screw up, we don't just screw us up—we screw Europe up, which in turn will screw up the rest of the globe.

Thus, when that happens, the biggest spender on IT products (global governments) will be forced to stop spending. That leads global IT companies to stop spending, and start cutting. People will get fired, budgets will freeze first, then reappear at 1/2 their current size.

There will be no incentive for companies to hire, quite the contrary. The cost of doing business will escalate, and the risks of failure will be enormous.

It will be bad.

Except for the few companies who can (and have) withstood the storm before. Those armed with cash, who can not only wait it out, but get aggressive will end up stealing share from those who can't. The HPs of the world find themselves in a double whammy—they are already in trouble, and if the world's economy collapses, they will be a victim. Others, like IBM or EMC who have piles of cash will be able to take advantage of the weak market and steal share if they so desire. Most will hide in the bunker, some will set new rules. It's basic Darwinism. It will happen to countries, to continents, and to companies.

It will be bad. Unless you are one of the few in position to take advantage.

Good: If we even give the ILLUSION (because if you are a realist, you know that "solving" the fiscal cliff issue is simply a short term, low impact component of a much bigger issue) that the US has come together and created a bi-partisan plan that both cuts spending and raises taxes, then the theory is that Europe, and the rest of the world will rejoice with false optimism that could actually cause an UPTICK in overall economic prosperity. Even nations on the verge of fiscal elimination could start "investing" in their resurgence, and that will mean they will be buying all sorts of technology to help them do so.

If that happens, then not only won't there be a tech crisis—there will be a tech bubble. Bubbles are awesome while you are in them, it's only when they inevitably pop that they become a problem.

This would not be the first (nor last) absurdly optimistic bubble in our lifetime. Hell, the internet bubble was only 15 years ago! Who remembers pets.com? I do. Guess that's one of the benefits of being 87. You start to see patterns. Of course then you forget that you saw the patterns, but such is the irony that is life.

In either case—and I vote for the false good one if anyone is counting—IT will come out of this situation much different than when it went in.

At the end of this "wave" of economic boom/bust you will find yourself in the IT-as-a-service business. Whether you are buying or selling—there is no way you come out of this in 5-10 years doing IT the old fashioned way. You will be a cloud dude. Private, public, or hybrid, you will be providing infrastructure to your (or someone else's) company on demand, leveraging cloud in all its glory. You will never answer the question of "when can I have x infrastructure provisioned..." with "3 weeks." Your answer will be "give me an hour"—and it will only take that long because you are in the middle of a parent/teacher conference.

Life will change in the next 5 years—boom or bust.

When the world ended economically in 2001/2002 we somehow, inexplicably learned to keep the IT lights on with ZERO budget, half our staff, in the face of never ending data growth. We said it couldn't be done—but we did it. They we slowly fell back into our old habits. This time, we're going to be forced to be even smarter—and we simply won't be able to use brute force or even our massive intellect to solve the problems. We're going to have to, in the words of Darwin, adapt to our new environment.

And that's not going to be a bad thing. It will be painful, and messy, and some will be hurt, but progress always leaves casualties.

So let us hope that those in Washington, who have never actually held a real job, can pull their collective heads out of their collective back sides and attempt to make rational, centrist decisions that can actually have a positive impact. Then let us hope that the we, and the rest of the world, recognize that countries are not inherently intelligent, nor are they infallible. If those that run countries are morons, then the country will be moronic. Same as companies. We can only hope that smarter heads prevail and that we are given the time to start to fix the problems others have handed us (our own fault, we let it happen). If so, I'm confident that our little industry can evolve to LEAD as opposed to follow, because the future is all about intelligence, and intelligence is all about data.

And that's the game we play my friends. Let's hope they give us the chance to keep playing.