Necessity used to be the mother of invention, but in America today it is more accurate to say that private enterprise is the new driving force. Why? Because a host of US Internet start-ups have heard the cries for help of harassed chief information officers, attempting to manage ever-constricting deadlines amid a nationwide staff crunch.
Self-explanatory ventures such as HelloBrain, Guru.com, Freeup.com and Collab.Net profess to feel your pain and have an online elixir to relieve it. If their services find a receptive market, they may herald nothing less than a revolution in IT department working practices.
Through HelloBrain and Guru.com, CIOs can tap foreign nationals, barred by visa restrictions from physically working for them, to act as piece-rate developers using a hosted, remote, code collaboration platform. Meanwhile Freeup, a joint venture between top PC maker Compaq and Internet incubator CMGI to be launched later this year, will hook CIOs up with all their application and development tool needs on a single downloadable service.
Perhaps the most interesting service moving onto the CIO's radar screen, however, is open-source venture Collab.net, based in San Francisco. Founded only last December, Collab.net has already won contracts from Oracle, Sun and Hewlett-Packard to host and manage online code-writing forums aimed at tapping remote programmers to accelerate functionality enhancements to software systems.
In addition to managing proprietary projects, the firm is attempting to import the open-source programming model that spawned the Linux operating system and Apache Web server. Its SourceXchange platform allows users to put custom applications out to tender. Firms pay a fee to Collab.net, a pool of subscribing developers, while 'peer reviewers' drawn from the developers' own ranks are used to help corporate customers evaluate bids. The ensuing development project is handled entirely on Collab.net's online platform.
Of course, it is user IT departments that find themselves at the sharp end of this shortfall, competing against the higher wages and stock options offered by Silicon Valley's dot-coms. The latter have not failed to find a solution to the problem that the venture capital treadmill has helped create.
This was first published in September 2000