Readers on Outsourcing Special: Kill the Messenger

By Edward H. Baker  |  Posted 05-05-2005

Readers' reaction to our March issue on outsourcing and globalization was swift. On the one hand, many readers wrote in complimenting us on a job well done. As one letter-writer put it, "I can't agree more with [author Thomas] Friedman. The IT labor shortage taught us that not every company can afford to be its own vertical IT supply chain. I have a choice: to learn to become an interface with whomever we get IT services from, or to work for an IT services firm." (See "Letters," page 12.) We appreciate both the compliment, and the realistic point-of-view.

On the other hand, many more readers wrote in demanding to know how we could possibly publish such utter nonsense. In the words of one (unpublished) letter: "It is my hope that you will research and print an article showing just how moronic this irresponsible lunatic is for spreading such stupidity that is so obviously flawed to even the most casual observer." We appreciate negative reactions at least as much as we do the positive kind—in part because they suggest we're doing our job as business-technology journalists in making people think about difficult issues, and in part because we can't do our job without knowing what people are thinking about those issues. Many people in IT have indeed lost jobs over the past five years, and we certainly understand how difficult that can be, both personally and professionally.

Still, it's worth noting that the world is changing, whether we like it or not, and information technology is changing along with it. I believe that the people we spoke to for the March issue—Thomas Friedman especially, but also JPMorgan Chase's Austin Adams and Professor Mary Lacity—were not advocating outsourcing, or globalization, so much as providing an outline of what it looks like, and warning us that we have to prepare ourselves (through improved education, strengthened innovation policies, and the continued free exchange of ideas) for the consequences, both good and bad.

Meanwhile, an even greater threat to IT jobs lies in information technology itself. Over the past 40 years, productivity gains through IT have put millions of non-IT workers out of jobs—yet nobody writes to us bemoaning their fate. Now the productivity cannon is pointed at IT itself; some analysts, for instance, say the advent of utility computing will bring savings of as much as 50 percent to large corporate IT departments—and most of that will come in the form of lower labor costs. It's a future we all need to be prepared for. Like it or not.