Workforce Blues: Numbers Down as SDN, NFV and Robotics Grow

Carl Weinschenk
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Software-Defined Networking and the Enterprise

Technical advances invariably have unintended negative impacts. The ramifications may be more than compensated for by the good the technology brings, but they must be recognized and dealt with nonetheless.

Computer Reseller News reports that networking giant Cisco is about to become a bit less of a giant: The company is set to cut its worldwide workforce 20 percent, which would be a reduction of between 9,000 and 14,000 workers. The report says that the move is a result of the “transition from its hardware roots into a software-centric organization.”

The selling point of software-defined networks and network functions virtualization (SDN and NFV), which are at the core of this transition, is that generic and relatively low-cost equipment can do the jobs formerly done by more sophisticated and varied devices. These higher-level devices take a larger workforce with more varied skillsets to produce.

The idea, then, is that the new networks have a capacity and responsiveness that was unimaginable even a decade ago. The downside will come in the form of pink slips to many people.

A software-dominated network also will reduce the number of people who actually go into the field to change out equipment as a network’s mandate changes. This job can now be done from the office. This will reduce the employment rolls at carriers, service providers and the ecosystem of networking companies that serve them.

It is clear that 2016 has been a bad one for the tech workforce in general. Jeff Reeves at InvestorPlace provides context to the Cisco news and makes it seem to be part of a trend. Intel said in April that it is cutting 11 percent of its workforce, which could mean that 12,000 workers are out. Microsoft cashiered 1,850 people from its smartphone unit. In May, The Wall Street Journal said that IBM may reduce its rolls by as many as 14,000 workers. Finally, Broadcom said it would cut 1,900 jobs after its merger with Avago.

The most extensive of all the transitions from humans to robots is in China. This spring, Foxconn replaced 60,000 workers with robots. The company manufactures products for Apple and many device vendors. Fortune report says that it is impossible to say which device brands the laid-off employees worked on.

It’s a sobering picture. Each number above represents a person. Many have families. The trend of making humans superfluous is apparent in both networking and manufacturing. Hopefully, many of these workers will be retrained and rehired.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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