Inhouse IT workers will need to reskill as automation of IT operations increasingly takes over tasks carried out manually today, according to a study.

Systems that automate IT management processes could replace one third of tasks carried out by IT teams according to the report ‘The wastage of human capital in IT operations’ by analyst house Quocirca and autonomic technology specialist IPsoft.

These “level one” tasks are replaceable due to their simplistic and repetitive nature, says the report’s author, Bob Tarzey, analyst with Quocirca. He defines these simple level one tasks as the responding to minor user incidents, carrying out routine maintenance or basic error checking.

These mundane tasks take up about one third of the time of in-house IT staff, according to the 100 IT managers at companies surveyed for the report. An example of a level one task suited to automation, says the report, is the patching of physical servers or virtual machines.

The upshot of increased automation for inhouse IT staff will be a change to their role and possibly, in the short term, job losses said Tarzey.

“It might lead to job losses in the very short term because of the economic climate that we’re in. But the real thing that it will produce in the long term is better delivery of IT to businesses,” he said referencing savings on staff costs and the potential for inhouse IT staff to retrain to carry out tasks that deliver greater business value.

“In the long term the people that work in businesses with an IT-related job will be much more application-focused and much more focused on making sure those applications deliver what the business needs, however they’re underpinned.”

The other alternative for in-house IT staff will be moving to work for service providers that will run the bulk of IT infrastructure and systems used by businesses, he said. While these service providers’ automated IT shops will require far fewer staff to run than those of today’s businesses this will be balanced out by an overall rise in demand for IT services.

Tarzey said: “If you go to Rackspace or Amazon you won’t find staff being wasted in the same way they are at a large enterprise with a conservative IT department and lots of legacy management styles.

“You’ll have more technical staff but they will want to drive  efficiency out of those operations to make them cost effective.”

Tarzey said that automation tools have reached a level of sophistication where they can be aware of context, taking account of factors like time of day or load when carrying out their tasks. When setting up these automated systems Tarzey it is important to give them the ability to recognise exceptions they can’t handle, and to hand these tasks off to a human operator.