Apparently, No-One Ever Gets Sacked

So there’s a myth that pervades the IT profession. Allegedly, no-one ever loses their job as the result of new and more efficient technology being introduced. Instead, those staff members are always transferred into newer and more exciting roles where they can be creative and exciting and deliver “value to the business”. Yeah, right.

Picture: Mark Levin

I was at an enterprise IT launch the other day and this tired old trope came up yet again. Someone asked, not unreasonably, what would happen to all the staff busily managing the network if all the tasks they currently have to perform were now automated and could be completed in a fraction of the usual time.

The executive offered the usual spin: that with those resources freed up, the existing IT staff would be able to work on “higher value” projects. Who thought up and approved these projects was not specified.

The notion that cutting down on labour costs — consistently the largest chunk of IT budgets — might enter the equation was apparently too distasteful to mention. IT automates all kinds of functions, but you’re not allowed to admit that it quite often automates its own deployment teams out of a job.

I’m not going to name and shame here because absolutely everyone spins this line, at launches and conferences and even in one-on-one discussions. In large part, it’s because no-one wants to be quoted in a story along the lines of “buying product X means you can sack all your staff”. But it’s insulting to pretend the thought doesn’t occur to managers.

No, we’re not seeing a Qantas-style headcount slash in many IT departments at the moment. But we’re also not consistently seeing creative, exciting new uses for technology. More often than not, we’re seeing IT work the way it usually does: making some tasks much easier, but often running into roadblocks when the time comes to roll out new ideas.

All jobs have static, and the idea that something can be automated to the point where you never have to tweak a configuration file is ridiculous. But the idea that more efficient or cheaper technology might lead to a loss of jobs isn’t just idle theory either. It’s what happens sometimes, and vendors selling that technology should stop impersonating ostriches when confronted with that fact.

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