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Oct 16, 2004: IA Trends Survey Results and Analysis

287 responses to this survey; impressive. I've run about a dozen IA community surveys over the years, but haven't been this close to 300 before. Thanks to all who participated!

We asked: "For each year below select the venue you worked in most and select the percentage of your work dedicated to IA." We asked this for years 1995-2004, then asked people to project where they'd be in 2005, 2010, and 2015. Here's how the data charted: IA venues (51Kb JPG) and Percentage of work dedicated to IA (79Kb JPG).

OK, now for some back-of-then envelope analysis:

Past trends

  • IA quickly became a full-time job in 2000.
  • Not surprisingly, 2000 represented the pinnacle of the agency or consulting firm as the place to get IA expertise. The ranks thin out in 2001-2002, then begins a slow rebirth as the economy warms up again.
  • The number of in-house IAs held steady as the bubble burst, then jumped forward in 2002. Did agency IAs go in-house?...
  • ...maybe. Between 2001 and 2004, the growth in self-employed and in-house IAs was actually equal.
  • Speaking of in-house IAs, there has been little change in work venues (business, government, etc.).
  • However, self-employed IAs may be changing their appellation from "contractor" to "consultant". This likely reflects a combination of desires: more specialized work, and higher billing rates.

Future trends

  • The numbers of both in-house and agency IAs will decline; this drop will be partially countered by growth in self-employed consultants.
  • An interesting uptick in the number of those "not employed" in IA. Considering how this number had steadily declined, this is somewhat surprising, but many respondents indicated that they'd move into management, broader UX work, or new activities altogether. This is supported by predictions in what portion of our jobs will be dedicated to IA in the future. IA ain't the end-all-be all...

My take on all this

  • Swimming in the wake of disaster is a Good Thing: The surprising steadiness in the number of in-house IAs during the dark days of 2001-2002 makes more sense when placed in the broader context of IT budgeting. Organizations couldn't continue wasting large sums replacing one failed enterprise application with another that seemed more promising. It slowly became obvious to managers that CMS, portal, and search engine performance could be improved through the efforts of information architects and other humans who were actually far less expensive than purchasing a new silver bullet.
  • Anti-social wonks turn into savvy businessmen: The growth among those willing to go it alone is truly amazing, especially as so many IAs started out strongly preferring to the joys of controlling vocabularies to the tawdry activity of selling one's own services. Either those of us in the field have changed and gained confidence over time, or a much more entrepreneurial group has entered the field over the past few years. Or, most likely, both have taken place.
  • From out-house to in-house to symbiosis: Many of us started out working for agencies, then ran for cover to in-house positions as the economy crashed. Now there's a critical mass of in-house IAs, combined with better economic conditions, to drive up demand for outside consultants. Innies need outies for specialized skills as well as training and mentoring. I do question the optimistic projection of a decline in innies and radical growth among self-employed consultants; the majority of IAs will remain innies, as there will simply be too much work to pass up, and not everyone wants to forego paid benefits for the risky world of solo consulting. And these innies will always need the assistance of outside specialists.

What's next? Discussion, I hope. If you'd like to crunch these numbers yourself, let me know and I'll email you the Excel file.

Many thanks to the following friends for their gracious assistance with designing and testing this survey: Michele de la Iglesia, Livia Labate, Victor Lombardi, Donna Maurer, Joanne McLernon, Samantha Starmer, Javier Velasco, and David Zerlin.

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Comment: Prentiss Riddle (Oct 17, 2004)

Tiny presentation nit: one of your charts uses absolute number of responses, the other uses percent of responses. That presumably makes the first one sensitive to the number of people who left some answers blank, particularly at the beginning end of the date range. I'm not sure which view is more meaningful, but would it make sense to make them consistent?

Although your prose summary may actually be the more sensible way to look at the data...

Comment: Shiv Singh (Oct 17, 2004)

Thanks. I found the survey and your comments very interesting. I was also surprised by the projections for the decline of in house IAs. Personally, I've always felt that in house IAs are going to grow over time though their skills will evolve differently to the agency IAs.

Comment: CD Evans (Oct 17, 2004)


Thanks for compiling this. Quite a good reflection on what has been an interesting decade.

Comment: Fred C. (Oct 18, 2004)

Surprising ! That's exactly what happened to me (agency > in house > consultant).

Comment: Christina (Oct 18, 2004)

Yes, I have just made up mind to be a consultant!

Comment: Perry Hewitt (Oct 18, 2004)

Thanks for this. I wonder when the growth of independent IA consultants will result in their specialization into industry "verticals". I see many consultants of all flavors finding lucrative niches in industries (publishing, financial, high tech) requiring specialized industry knowledge. As industry standards for information and data/metadata coalesce, will folks be IAs for financial services, healthcare, etc.? How will they market themselves?

Comment: ML (Oct 18, 2004)

Great survey. Helped me relate to the trends more...I wonder where sabbatical would really fit in? :)

Comment: Marcia Morante (Oct 19, 2004)

Great job, Lou. It probably doesn't matter much in the big pic, but it's hard for me to imagine IT managers pulling dusty software (circa 2001) off the shelf. My suspicion and some verified knowledge is that new silver bullets have been purchased AND people have also been hired (the part that I really care about).

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