Technology bites hands that run it

Innovative technology could be your worst enemy. Ironically, the biggest threat to IT jobs isn't offshore outsourcing, tight budgets, hiring freezes or project failures, but new technology.

It makes some IT skills obsolete. Despite positive signs of increased spending similar increases in jobs might not eventuate as technology is set to replace a range of skill sets, particularly at the lower end.

One example is technologies to automate and virtualize data centre resources replacing some network administration skills. While many are quick to blame offshoring for disappearing jobs, separate reports from AMR Research, Gartner and Forrester identify server consolidation; network, server and storage virtualization, and product roadmaps towards utility computing for reducing entry-level positions in enterprise data centres.

AMR Research vice president Lance Travis said any time IT tasks are automated, the goal is to reduce the number of people doing it. "The theory is these types of technologies will make enterprise companies more efficient and save money; one way to do that is by reducing staff," he said.

Utility computing initiatives from companies such as EMC, HP, IBM and Sun Microsystems will not only reduce server numbers but headcount through the pooling of a range of resources and applications thereby reducing the need for an army of IT workers.

While fewer staff will be needed for redundant, day-to-day tasks, products can't replace human intelligence and experience.

"There may not be a big demand for workers to swap storage tapes or roll out a new server, but there will always be a need for the human, gut reaction to IT [incidents]," Travis said.

Meta Group research director Kevin McIsaac is certain new technologies will have an impact on IT jobs – it’s just a questions of when.

“Think back 25 years to the jobs that existed in IT then; most don't exist any more. Many low-level staff have already been replaced," he said adding that this trend will continue.

“Old jobs die out and new ones are created, so skills have to be kept up to date.”

Australian Computer Society president Edward Mandla was quick to point out new technologies often create new jobs and doesn't believe there will be further layoffs locally as "IT resources are stretched to the limit".

“Generally speaking, new technologies increase IT employment. If someone rolls out a massive enterprise management system then it creates some great job opportunities at the higher end of the job market. However, these sorts of deployments could well create some job displacement at the lower end,” Mandla said.

“A the moment we’re seeing a shift up the value curve in the Australian IT market, and it just emphasises that people really need to be updating their skills regularly.”

One company carrying out a massive recruitment drive is Oxygen Business Solutions which has added 130 people to its staff in the last two years and is looking to recruit another 40.

The company's CEO Mike Smith said Oxygen is seeking generic skills like software management as well as SAP practitioners, but struggling to find the right people.

He said it is up to IT workers to gain the skills that are in demand and to keep moving up the value chain.

"There will never be technology that can replace bodies; there’s no one buying technology that self-installs and self-runs,” Smith said.

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More about AMR ResearchAustralian Computer SocietyEMC CorporationGartnerIBM AustraliaMeta GroupOxygen Business SolutionsSAP AustraliaSun Microsystems

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