The automation of IT infrastructure services through utility computing models will put even more pressure on traditional IT jobs during the next two to 10 years, industry experts have warned.
Adding to the ongoing debate around the threat to IT jobs from offshore outsourcing, Gartner predicts that this is only one factor that will affect the security of jobs in IT departments in western Europe and the US.
The analyst group expects that the impact of utility computing will be felt predominantly by internal IT organisations, but external service providers will also see a drop in headcount as automation begins to replace customisation.
"The trend towards offshore services has monopolised attention in terms of job losses," said Gianluca Tramacere, an analyst in the IT Services and Sourcing group at Gartner.
"There is less awareness that increasing reliance on highly automated infrastructures will significantly reduce the need for manual procedures and direct involvement of the workforce. IT automation can mean greater flexibility and cost efficiency for businesses."
However, Tramacere added that this makes it harder for IT personnel to defend their jobs as the evolution, accelerated by the global economy and competitive pressures, is seen as an inevitable consequence of IT progress.
Tramacere stressed that this will require IT staff, both in-house and those employed by external service providers, to move their skills further up the value chain.
Enterprises are warming to the idea of accessing technology infrastructure rather than owning it. Management will be prepared to give up a large proportion of highly customised, internal IT infrastructures to achieve greater flexibility in accessing IT functionality, according to Gartner.
"External service providers, including IBM and HP, are investing heavily in new technologies that will allow the automated delivery of IT services," said Tramacere.
"Examples of technologies that are emerging include 'self-healing' hardware, rapid development tools and software components, and tools that automatically manage systems and services.
"Ultimately, organisations will be driven to access utility infrastructure services more frequently and to reduce the size of their internal IT operations."
According to the analyst firm, over the next five to 10 years, business processes will also become far more IT intensive and rely less on people and paper.
While automating existing processes will be key, using IT to transform the processes of a business to speed up decision making, respond faster to change and make more effective use of their assets, will be even more important.
Findings from Gartner's annual worldwide survey of chief information officers (CIOs) early this year showed that 43 per cent believed the biggest change in the role of their IT department would be to enable better business processes.
"Once fully available, real-time infrastructure - IT infrastructure as a utility - has the potential to become the underpinning layer of business process automation," said Claudio Da Rold, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.
"The final aim for highly specialist service providers will be to provide greater business flexibility by developing and offering applications and business processes on a large scale as a one-to-many model."
Gartner predicts that through 2015, the US will be better positioned to use business change as a strategic weapon compared to western Europe because it has more fluid labour laws and culture.
"Organisations based in countries with complex labour laws and strong union representation, such as France, Germany and Italy, will have to work hard to maintain a competitive edge as they strive to make the transition to the new models," said Da Rold.
Gartner acknowledged that the impact will be felt acutely by individuals and IT organisations alike, and counselled both parties to prepare well in advance.
The analyst firm advised individuals to strengthen their business and IT skills and any specialised knowledge of their organisation's business models and processes.
CIOs should, according to Gartner, aim to develop a clear vision for evolving IT and business processes and a long-term course of action for evolving IT roles.
Most CIOs typically work to a one- or two-year plan, but the critical nature of a five-year sourcing strategy will become increasingly apparent as automation assumes a greater role.
"The whole IT landscape will become increasingly complex as the inclusion of new delivery models impact on internal skill requirements," said Tramacere.
"IT change is accelerating and CIOs need to be prepared to manage constant change. Employing a methodology to review past experiences and best practices, and building a strategy to manage future change, are now essential pre-determinants of success."
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