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Evolving Ideas in IT

Last week, I wrote about David M. Kroenke’s list of components in a business computer system—computer equipment or hardware, programs, data, procedures and personnel. It’s a simple but enduring model, and you can use it in various situations to help discover useful information about new systems or applications.

This week, I’ll discuss some constructs and conventions in IT that are staying the same for some and changing for others.

Design, Then Implement

Forty years ago, it was a well-established convention to design something carefully before you implement it. This was particularly important when mistakes were costly because program rewrites, compiles, master file builds, testing and verification took up a lot of time. Reworking systems also inevitably meant that some IT decision makers and users lost confidence in their system.

If that was the situation 40 years ago, one could argue that not much has changed today. Rewrites still come with huge labor costs even though program compiles complete much more rapidly. It’s true that with some languages, compiles are not necessary—but there’s a cost for this at run time. Due to the pervasive use of IT, master file loading, testing and verification are still extremely time consuming because of increased data volumes and application functionality.

Although IT has evolved over the years with new technology and processes, it’s still very important to create a robust design, regardless of the design approach. A sound design maximizes the chances of successful implementation.

IT Architect, IT Specialist

Over the years, IT professions have grown and become well defined. Architects and specialists are not the only job titles in the market, but they persist in their importance. IT architects are technical thinkers who research, analyze and document solutions. If your organization needs a solution design, it’s likely that someone with an IT architect skillset will do the job. According to PayScale, “An information technology (IT) architect plays an important part in managing the technological components of a business, specifically security architecture and business plans. IT architects ensure compliance with existing rules and regulations, as well as spearhead the creation and implementation of updated and new security architecture/systems.” An IT architect commands a median salary of $115,000.

IT specialists have a more tactical role than IT architects. They work closely with technology products, sometimes from their design to regular maintenance and problem determination. An IT specialist generally provides services for their companies regarding software, hardware and databases. Software specialization, particularly in the areas of database and online transaction processing, can require very deep skills. Significant skills are required because debugging problems with databases and high transaction rate systems ensures that business critical applications perform their ongoing mission. PayScale reports a median salary for an IT specialist of $47,000.

People Design and Implement

The architect and specialist skill types persist in the industry because they directly relate to the design and implement convention. People with the IT architect skillset focus on design activities—systems, security, high availability—and often integrate multiple disciplines in the same design. When discussing security, you can’t leave out availability considerations because security solutions must be available, manageable and reliable.

IT specialists focus on implementation activities. In many companies, they’re expected to work in a specific area like PC support or network administration. Some activities in these areas are routine, whereas others require highly skilled problem determination abilities. If you think back to your own experiences with PC support, you might remember a situation where an extremely skilled specialist recovered your data or made you computer perform well again.

Next week, I’ll finish up this brief series by exploring developing and operating conventions. This is an area of IT that has undergone a significant amount of growth and improvement over the years.