Like many movements before it, IT is rapidly evolving to an industrial model. A process or profession becomes industrialized when it matures from an art form to a widespread, repeatable function with predictable result and accelerated by technology to achieve far higher levels of productivity. Results must be deterministic (trustworthy) and execution must be fast and nimble, two related but different qualities. Customer satisfaction need not be addressed directly because reliability and speed result in lower costs and higher satisfaction.

IT should learn from agriculture and manufacturing, which have perfected industrialization. In agriculture, productivity is orders of magnitude better. Genetic engineering made crops resistant to pests and environmental extremes such as droughts while simultaneously improving consistency. The industrialized evolution of farming means we can feed an expanding population with fewer farmers. It has benefits in nearly every facet of agricultural production.

Manufacturing process improvements like the assembly line and just-in-time manufacturing combined with automation and statistical quality control to ensure that we can make products faster and more consistently, at a lower cost. Most of the products we use could not exist without an industrialized model.

Wal-Mart has industrialized retail, by perfecting industrialized supply chain management.  Supply chain management at Wal-Mart (and many other game-changing companies) is incredible. Products are always moving and the supply-demand cycles ebb and flow almost instantaneously to market demand, with inventories kept at a bare minimum everywhere and always. Service companies like FedEx, Amazon, and Apple’s iTunes also demonstrate the power to destroy the old models of business because their business models are based on the same principles of industrialization.

IT is a service business too. Most IT organizations are operating like the old-school entertainment behemoths that are getting crushed by iTunes because our innovation is not focused on industrialized outcomes as are these other examples. IT is full of brilliant innovators, but most of this innovation is too localized. We focus on technology details and optimize them relentlessly. This myopic view doesn’t innovate effectively at assembling these many parts into the machine that executes our business. It‘s local, not global attention. We are locally brilliant and globally stupid!

Every successful industrialization movement has been globally innovative. The brilliant innovation is assembling all of the moving parts into a system that is adaptive, fast, deterministic, economical, and reliable. Wal-Mart’s adoption of RFID was not to pioneer cool technology. The purpose is to accelerate the supply chain’s speed and optimize visibility to quickly adapt to changing conditions. RFID is just another tool, not the end game. RFID doesn’t make Wal-Mart more competitive; how they use RFID does.

As we move IT toward an industrialized model, we see many changes, most of which are uncomfortable because they upset the status quo. They marginalize many of the things we do and threaten to render many of our valued skills as (gasp!) obsolete.

Industrial models require we abolish the pure artistry of technology and move to a business engineering mentality. Engineering anything is a delicate balance of art, science and economics. Like Wal-Mart’s RFID, the value lies not in technology, but in how we leverage technology for business advantage.

Industrialized IT is coming very rapidly. It will be painful to some, but it will be rewarding to all who embrace change and who want to contribute to the business. It will truly be exciting, but it will definitely not be IT as we’ve known it. That model is history.

We have some answers to how IT can face this gauntlet and win. We will share those very soon, but first we are interested in hearing your thoughts on this. Do you agree that such a metamorphosis is happening? Is your organization ready to accept radical change to thrive? How do you see skills and roles evolving? Do we remold geeks into businesspeople? If not, what happens to the geeks? Are they becoming an endangered species?

* This post was also published in the Winter 2010 edition of the itSMF USA Newsletter The Forum. Watch for more collaborative materials between Forrester and itSMF USA.