IT Jobs to Disappear in Puff of the Cloud?

Susan Hall

I recently pointed to a McKinsey & Co. article by economist and author W. Brian Arthur in which he explores a world of machine-to-machine automation, like tree roots underground, that he calls "the second economy." It has an eerie similarity to some of the Gartner predictions for the labor force as cloud computing grows more widespread.


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ZDNet's Larry Dignan reports on a presentation by Gartner analysts Johan Jacobs and Ken Brant last week at the Gartner Symposium in Orlando, Fla. Among the messages:

The long-run value proposition of IT is not to support the human work force - it is to replace it.

As in the McKinsey piece, they're not just talking about only IT jobs to be lost, but they are talking about IT losing jobs. Dignan explains it like this:


  • Computing will be outsourced to the cloud and become an IT utility.
  • Business processes will be outsourced to software. That's the machine-to-machine transactions the McKinsey article talks about. At the airport, you can check in at a kiosk, rather than with a gate agent. Call centers, for example, are expected to be run by avatars and software. Countries like India that dominate technology outsourcing are expected to be hit especially hard.
  • As the data center is virtualized, there will be no need for people to maintain the infrastructure - or for those involved in building and designing data centers.
  • Workers will have to reinvent themselves, though many IT workers will face hollowed-out job prospects just as U.S. factory workers have. Economist Paul Krugman, writing in The New York Times, created a stir earlier this year by predicting such a hollowing out of middle-wage jobs that higher education is expected to guarantee.


Jacobs and Brant forsee this happening by 2020, brought on by pressure to reduce the cost of IT and increase efficiency. According to their presentation:

CIOs believe that their data centers, servers, desktop and business applications are grossly inefficient and must be rationalized over the next ten years. We believe that the people associated with these inefficient assets will also be rationalized in significant numbers along the way. We foresee a substantial reduction in the U.S. IT workforce, especially among those supporting the data center and applications, in end-user organizations. According to Gartner's 2011 survey of U.S. CIOs ... "virtualization" and "cloud computing" were the two top-ranked technology priorities; 83 percent of U.S. CIOs estimated that their organizations would conduct "more than half of their transactions on a cloud infrastructure" by 2020.

However, they predicted fewer jobs lost if companies switch to hybrid or private clouds. Our Arthur Cole considers hybrid operations to be the wave of at least the more near future. And some jobs will grow in importance. For instance, there will be a need for the "cat herders" - vendor management specialists, as CIO.com describes them, who ride herd on not just one vendor, but many in tandem. In that vein, Mike Vizard recently wrote about a report from IT consulting firm Alsbridge, on the coming of "cloudsourcing," or what IT execs need to know about moving their vendor contracts to the cloud.

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