Tech industry experts are predicting that demand for certain tech roles will dramatically decline over the next decade as organisations switch to cloud computing.

By 2020 the majority of organisations will rely on the cloud for more than half of their IT services, according to Gartner’s 2011 CIO Agenda Survey.

After organisations have switched to the cloud the number of staff needed to manage and provision individual pieces of IT infrastructure – the likes of networks, storage and servers – can be scaled back, as much of the virtualised infrastructure that cloud is built upon can be automated.

The upshot will be whereas 70 per cent of IT resources are devoted to operating IT infrastructure today, by 2020 just 35 per cent of resources will be used in operations, according to the Gartner report New Skills for the New IT.

Bye, bye server admins?

John Rivard,  Gartner research director said that, while there will still be roles for people who want to specialise in particular infrastructure, in general IT professionals are going to need a grasp of corporate demands “or the business will bypass them”.

“The cloud is an ability to commoditise the non-differentiating aspects of IT, and increasingly IT’s role in differentiating the business is bigger and bigger,” he said.

“The kinds of roles are definitely going to change: you’re going to see much more automation, more cloud capabilities and less hands-on administration. Across the board, every organisation that I talk to is asking ‘How can I use less of the resources that I have on the run, and more of it on driving the business?’.”

There will be a move away from the IT specialist said Rivard, the kind of person who knows Wintel servers inside out and sleeps with technical manual, towards what he calls “versatilists”, who are skilled in multiple areas of IT and business and who readily “absorbs” new information.

As the Gartner report puts it, “the skill profiles for the new IT will, in many cases, be a hybrid of business and IT skills”.

In this new world, the report said, business designers and technology innovators will devise IT to support new ways of doing business, information architects and process designers will design and implement collaborative business processes that will allow for increased process automation, while solution integrators, service brokers and demand managers will manage a diverse group of cloud and non-cloud vendors.

New types of tech job

The shift towards cloud-based IT services and how it will change tech roles was a hot topic at the recent EMC World conference in Las Vegas. Howard Elias, COO for information infrastructure and cloud services at storage giant EMC, said: “There are not going to be fewer people involved in IT, but they will be involved in IT in different ways.

“If you are a server, storage or network admin, there may be fewer of those dedicated – what I call siloed component – skillsets needed.”

While these roles disappear, new jobs will spring up in their place both technical – focused on marshalling different services and technologies, and business orientated – analysing huge data stores for valuable insights and matching technologies to the needs of business and customers.

“We are going to need a lot more of what I would call data centre architects or cloud architects, where you still need to know enough about servers, network and storage, but you also need to know how they integrate and interact together, and most importantly understand the management and automation that occurs on top of that to deliver that IT as a service,” he said.

EMC is backing training and certification schemes for two roles it believes will be core to the future of business IT; cloud architect and data scientist. Cloud architects will deliver virtualisation and cloud designs to suit business needs, while data scientists will apply advanced analytics techniques to petabyte scale databases to identify beneficial business trends.

IT professionals looking to transition into one of these new, more business-orientated roles will also face competition not just from other techies, but from business analysts and graduates who’ve trained to fill these positions.

Gartner’s Rivard said that business-minded techies and technology-literate business types will be equally eligible for these new posts: “They can come from either side, but they’ve got to be individuals who want to continue lifelong learning and master all of it.”

And now for some good news…

But despite the competition for these new roles Rivard doesn’t expect IT professionals will struggle to find work.

“You’ve got the baby boomer retirement that’s going to take a significant part of legacy staff off the map. Also I don’t think we’re producing enough graduates on the technology or the business side, so I expect there is going to be a competition for the talent.”

EMC’s Elias said that IT professionals should see the change as an opportunity to broaden their professional opportunities.

“This is the challenge of creative disruption,” he said.

“As that happens there is more opportunity for everybody, some people are going to say ‘I don’t like that new opportunity’ and that is going to be a challenge for them, and there are those who want to embrace it, and believe me there are going to be more interesting jobs than there were in the past.

“You’ve got to take control of your career, it’s more about the individual, and the individual’s got to take the initiative.”

The challenge ahead

IT infrastructure managers are aware of the challenge of shifting the skillset of their workforce higher up the business value chain – service management and business partnership skills was the most commonly identified area in need of improvement in a recent Gartner poll of infrastructure managers.

“They clearly see that, within IT, those are the skills that are needed, and those are the ones that are going to be hardest to get,” said Rivard.

IT is in a constant state of flux with technologies coming and going every year, said Rivard, and so expects IT professionals to be able to handle the coming change.

“IT people are in this field because it changes; if they weren’t they’d be pouring concrete,” said Rivard.

“They generally like the technology changes, but these technology changes are driving them beyond just technology skills to become overall business leaders.”