A while back, I wrote a post about how IT might be more interested in a broad adoption of cloud computing rather than simply purchasing a bunch of cloud-based applications because of the cloud's intrinsic geek appeal and the more hands-on role IT would play with the cloud vs. SaaS. After all, SaaS can be and sometimes is deployed with no intervention from IT.
I shared sentiments from Ken Rudin, the founder of LucidEra, a SaaS provider which went bust in June,that were first published in a Q&A on the TDWI site:
The broader message of cloud computing, with its focus on providing a new way of provisioning not just applications but also computing power, storage, and even development platforms, is much more attractive to IT. Given that, you're now seeing a messaging shift that is helping IT embrace what's possible -- the ability to host, manage, customize, and even build apps without software and servers on premises.
Hmmm. Let's read the final part of that second sentence, shall we? "The ability to host, manage, customize and even build apps without software and servers on premises." Oh, dear. That obviously presents an even larger threat to internal IT than users running around installing apps under the official radar.
By reducing the need for internal IT staff, the cloud will eliminate some IT jobs. I wrote about this back in July, noting that the cloud could threaten the livelihoods of server administrators, database administrators, and infrastructure and network specialists. Several experts cited in my post advised developing skills in areas less likely to suffer under the cloud, including analytics and mobile applications, and/or beefing up broader business skills with an eye toward becoming involved in supplier management and other less tech-intensive areas.
So the worry of the cloud eliminating the need for at least some IT jobs isn't new. But the fuzzy fear was brought into sharp focus yesterday at the Cloud Computing Conference & Expo in Santa Clara, Calif., thanks to some remarks from a Unisys executive during what was probably an otherwise innocuous presentation. According to an InfoWorld report, Richard Marcello, president of technology, consulting, and integration solutions at Unisys, said:
We were able to eliminate a whole bunch of actually U.S.-based jobs and kind of replace them with two folks out of India to serve a 1,200-person engineering organization.
Yikes. As John Murrell wrote in today's edition of the Good Morning Silicon Valley electronic newsletter, Marcello "must have regretted [the example] as he heard it coming out of his mouth." It's pretty unfortunate that Marcello mentioned the remote work was done in India, as it could just as easily be performed in the United States.
Either way, the cloud makes it simpler to move to a smaller IT staff that relies to a greater degree on outsourced relationships. Earlier this year Dion Hinchcliffe opined that the cloud will help create "a new lightweight form of real-time partnerships and outsourcing with IT suppliers," which would offer companies more control and flexibility than traditional outsourcing arrangements.
In addition to saving money through downsizing staff, Unisys gained other efficiencies via the cloud. According to the article, provisioning now takes five minutes, whereas before it involved 10 days of manual tasks. I think that's the bigger point here. Automation is just as likely as outsourcing to eliminate jobs, probably even more so. By automating once labor-intensive processes like provisioning, you're going to lose jobs. During an interview about globalization with The Hackett Group's Michel Janssen and Erik Dorr, Janssen told me:
Here's the reality of a lot of the transactional work going overseas. The alternative is to automate it. Either way, you lose jobs in this conversation of becoming more efficient on a global basis. We talk about a lift-and-shift, which is labor arbitrage, pure and simple. Then there's transform-and-shift, which is becoming more productive by automating processes. So we say that companies should be doing both. Both strategies will help you become competitive.