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State Street tech layoffs: IT transformation's dark side

State Street Corp. announced this week that it is cutting 530 of its “non-client-facing” IT employees over the next 18 to 20 months, and shifting an additional 320 similar IT workers to outsourcing vendors IBM and Wipro Technologies. Application maintenance services are going to Wipro, while IBM will provide infrastructure support. The layoffs, which amount to 21% of State Street’s 4,000 IT employees worldwide, are part of a “multi-year business operations and IT transformation program,” to increase the efficiency of IT operations and focus more on innovation, bank officials stated — but I sort of knew that.

We recently spoke with State Street CIO Chris Perretta about his technology transformation at State Street, running a podcast just last week about the launch of a private cloud and his IT team’s laser focus on such innovations as Big Data processing. Perretta told me he has an organization now that “makes sense” to him, referring to the important role his chief architect and chief scientist play in finding IT trends that feed a “pipeline of innovation.”

Reaching Perretta this morning by phone, I asked him how many of the 850 lost or reassigned IT jobs were due to IT transformation. Before he uttered a word, the bank’s public relations specialist offered, “all of them, really.” Perretta was more reflective. Days like this remind IT people like him just how fast technology moves, and “our jobs have to reflect that,” he said. In addition, State Street has always pressured employees “to do those tasks which differentiate us with our customers.” The technology jobs being eliminated or moved off to vendors are “incredibly crucial to us,” he noted, but are more efficiently done by vendors invested in those technologies. State Street “gets to leverage” that vendor know-how and dedicate its IT people to things that are “out there on the technology edge.”

“So, for instance, our people designed our cloud; our people designed even the implementation of the hardware that we’re running. And it is our people who are designing our most innovative applications,” Perretta said. “Those are the jobs that we want to grow and keep within our employees. That’s the intellectual property we want to develop.”

The reassignment and loss of IT jobs are the consequences of a new operating model, Perretta said, and are driven by such new technologies as State Street’s private cloud and by IT’s move to Lean development principles. Automation eliminates some jobs. Outsourcing allows the bank to shift fixed costs to variable costs, a powerful advantage with technology changing so fast. “Sometimes that involves dislocation, and that’s unfortunate,” he said, but State Street has always watched the cost line. “And we want to make sure that what we do spend is spent in a way that makes a difference, so there you have it.” Whether these same forces will result in more IT layoffs, or how much money he saves by this shakeup, he declined to say.

Of course, State Street is not the only company shedding IT jobs. The federal government said today that it is closing 800, or 40%, of its data centers, a move that would save billions of dollars. The federal government’s outgoing CIO Vivek Kundra told The New York Times that the consolidation was “part of a broader strategy to embrace more efficient, Internet-era computing,” in particular, cloud computing. No word yet of layoffs.

Technology changes us. Perretta said he just bought an old typewriter and put it on his desk — the old manual kind, to remind him of that change in just his own lifetime. That’s the reality of the IT field, and because IT is integral to most business now, that’s the reality of many, many other fields as well — and the reason, in part, for a jobless recovery and why unemployment remains high, especially for the “non-client-facing.” Good luck to you.

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