Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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7/23/2007
02:37 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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Will Automation Be An IT Job Killer?

We've shared ways that U.S. IT pros are planning their careers with one eye on offshoring as a risk factor. We haven't spent enough time on the automation risk. Today's news of Hewlett-Packard buying Opsware for $1.6 billion cash shows how a lot of companies will look to automation to cut IT people, regardless of where in the worl

We've shared ways that U.S. IT pros are planning their careers with one eye on offshoring as a risk factor. We haven't spent enough time on the automation risk. Today's news of Hewlett-Packard buying Opsware for $1.6 billion cash shows how a lot of companies will look to automation to cut IT people, regardless of where in the world they work.Opsware helps companies automate tasks in large-scale data centers. Last week, BMC said it's buying RealOps to give a major lift to its IT process automation tools. The tools aren't at a point that they can replace swaths of people yet (see our review of three major products), but their use -- and market value -- is growing.

HP CIO Randy Mott has been pushing the automation agenda. "With all the tech we have, we haven't automated very much of it," he said during a keynote at InformationWeek's Fall Conference last September. He said it's shocking that the IT industry worldwide is employing more people than ever while investing less in capital as a percentage of spending than ever. Of course, Mott has a stake in touting automation for HP, but there are plenty of believers: Opsware's customer list includes Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Home Depot, GE, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

With Mott's track record, it's wise to listen when he talks IT strategy. His advice to CIOs is to first figure out what percentage of each IT employees' time is spent on innovation, and focus on increasing that while squeezing support and maintenance.

It suggests a good yardstick for IT pros to assess their jobs: What percentage is spent on innovation, how much on keep-the-lights-on maintenance? Is there any way to change the mix? It can be a very hard number to move, either for individuals in their jobs or CIOs for their organizations.

When I wrote last week on some good news about the U.S. creating IT jobs, many complained that the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers paint too rosy a picture -- that too many of those jobs were being filled by foreign-born workers, and that the job climate was, in fact, getting worse. Same reaction when I wrote about rising wages this year. Blame was placed almost universally on foreigners.

Foreign-born workers and offshoring make an easy target for frustration about globalization. Automation will be tougher to demonize, although it might end up having a major effect in the next five years on what IT people do.

What's your take on automation's impact? Are the companies you're working with embracing IT automation? Is it affecting IT employment? Will it change what you do?

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