Forrester CEO pulls no punches on XP and IT

In a market awash with hyperbole, Forrester chief executive George Colony talks straight with Fiona Harvey about Bill Gates,...

In a market awash with hyperbole, Forrester chief executive George Colony talks straight with Fiona Harvey about Bill Gates, outsourcing to China and the tactics of the T-shirts.

Thinking of upgrading to Windows XP? Don't do it. "Windows XP is not ready for prime-time. Corporations really should not be thinking of installing it yet." That is not just any old advice. It comes from George Colony, founder and chief executive of one of the world's most prominent technology analysis companies, Forrester Research.

Colony is a man who should know what he's talking about. Having put the product through extensive testing, he does not believe that Windows XP is fit for corporate use. Future versions of it should be, he said, when the bugs have been fixed. But upgrading now or in the next six months at least would be folly.

The problems mainly lie with the operating system's security. Only when these have been fixed and the security has been extensively tested and proven - which could take more than six months - should companies think of upgrading. It is not worth the risk, Colony said.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft disagrees with this analysis. Colony is breezily unfazed. "Bill Gates hates my guts," he said. Nonetheless, Microsoft remains a customer, relying on Forrester for analysis of the technology market and predictions.

"We're paid to tell it like it is, without fear. We say the things that the suppliers won't say, that Wall Street won't say," said Colony. His warning to the big systems integrators and their clients is, "By 2007, 70% of the world's computer programming activity will be in developing countries. Companies such as Accenture, EDS and IBM will go out of business unless they adapt by farming out their programming to countries such as India and China and concentrating on high-value project management."

If he is right, that will have enormous implications for IT customers in the UK. It costs three times as much to develop code in the US and Europe as it does in India, and in south Asia about 65,000 qualified software engineers join the workforce each year. But the shift in programming work "will not lead to wholesale unemployment in Europe and the US", Colony said. IT workers in these countries will concentrate, instead, on the more strategic aspects of technology work, fitting IT systems to business processes.

While in theory farming out code-bashing to India and China should work out cheaper, and many companies have already embarked on this route to some extent, management difficulties may ensue. Aside from the questions of culture and language, there are heavy management burdens to consider. How do you manage workers half a world away and how can you be sure that you are getting value for money? What kind of "high-value project management work" are you prepared to pay for?

If it goes right Colony believes the farming out of development to lower-cost countries and a greater emphasis on strategy and business will bring benefits for corporate IT. And corporate IT needs a boost. The bursting of the Internet bubble did more than send shockwaves through the world's stock markets, it had a profound effect on the perception of IT in companies.

Many chief executives seemed to breathe a huge sigh of relief, as if their technophobia had been vindicated. To them, it proved that the whole technology thing had always been a chimera, an expensive way of satisfying management consultants' need to always sell companies something new. Once technology was in the doldrums firms could return to their old ways of doing business, where technology was something kept safely in the background and not for a board-level discussion.

How wrong could they be? asked Colony. "Technology is a different language, and difficult to understand," he explained, but speaking the language is crucial if organisations are to grasp the productivity gains IT can bring.

Developing the tradition of classifying business people by clothing types Colony classifies key business types according to their neckwear: ties (board level); turtlenecks (marketing); and T-shirts (IT professionals).

During the late 1990s, in the US at least, all spoke the same language - they realised what technology could do for business, as the Internet, e-mail, management software, more usable desktop software and other technical innovations opened up possibilities that even non-techies could understand.

However, since the bursting of the bubble, said Colony, there is a danger that the ties and turtlenecks are deserting. The T-shirts must win them back if they want to retain their company's technical edge. "In the past, T-shirts may have been guilty of being too insular, and failing to communicate the real message of IT to other parts of the company. They have to learn that progress will come by keeping the ties and turtlenecks on board," he said.

The next chance (and challenge) for IT professionals seeking to keep the ties and the turtlenecks on the right track lies in Web services, which Colony called the X-Internet. Microsoft's .net, Sun's One, IBM's Websphere, the Liberty Alliance, as well as software from a host of smaller companies, all form part of this new vision, which will come to fruition over the next five years.

Colony predicted, with his usual confidence, that this infrastructure, which transforms the Internet from a publishing and communications medium into something more "programmable", will prove to be "the future of software".

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