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IT jobs caught in the middle of IT transformation

The one undeniable fact of IT transformation is the inevitable loss of IT jobs, for both buyers and sellers. Why CIOs still have time to fix things.

Amid the optimism created by increasing efficiencies in business due to strategic and technological nimbleness, there remains the proverbial specter that is haunting both buyers and sellers in the technology industry: Where are all the IT jobs going?

Scot PetersenScot Petersen,
Editorial Director

Cisco announced recently its latest step (1,300 jobs cut) in an ongoing effort to reduce its workforce in the name of "agility." Hewlett-Packard is beginning its efforts to shed 27,000 jobs. Sony, Nokia and RIM are each looking to cut thousands of jobs. In all, more than 50,000 tech industry jobs were lost in the first half of this year.

It's not just technology vendors that are hurting. The private sector also is looking at inevitable cuts in IT staffing as enterprise systems become more service-oriented and automated. It was just a year ago that State Street Corp. announced it was cutting 530 IT workers and reassigning another 320 to IBM and Wipro Technologies as part of its "IT transformation" initiative related to its big private cloud development project.

Downside of efficiency

None of this is that surprising when you consider that it has always been the role of technology to make businesses more efficient. More efficiency means people can accomplish more things, or that fewer people can accomplish the same (or more) amount of things. But rarely does technology innovation mean that more technology people will be needed.

As IT becomes more strategic, it will take a more consultative role in the business.

The story with enterprise IT is better than with the vendors, despite incidents like State Street. HP, Cisco and especially mobile device makers are victims of the economy, to be sure, but the bigger issue is a changing landscape where smart businesses are pushing commodity computing into the hands of service providers and, of course, the cloud. Apple, Google and to some extent Microsoft have effectively killed RIM and other mobile device makers that have not been able to keep up with innovation. Many of the layoffs among the tech vendors are not just IT folks, either, but rank and file workers and managers from across departments.

Job glut or skills shortage?

But the issue at hand is enterprise IT. Strangely, there remains a shortage of skilled workers in some areas, so CIOs are going to have to identify those IT roles that will service IT transformation, jobs such as shared services specialists, "brokers," analytics specialists and user experience designers. In addition, businesses will have to create a culture that can retain the types of specialists they will need in the coming years -- those "Millennials" who are entering the workforce with different skills and expectations than the workers of the client/server or early Web eras.

Finally, CIOs will have to start looking at new ways to organize IT within their companies. IT functions are becoming more focused on business problems or opportunities rather than technology for technology's sake, so people who understand business goals and can communicate and collaborate should be prized over those with purely technical expertise.

IT as consultant

And as IT becomes more strategic, it will take a more consultative role in the business. Balancing productivity and risk, such as the problem right now with BYOD, will be a primary responsibility, as will managing the relationships between the company and the many service providers that will be taking over commodity IT functions. I do not believe this is just a swing back to the era when outsourcing was king. This time around, the strategies and technologies are available to make IT services the way of the future -- for good.

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Has your company seen IT job layoffs in the name of agility?