The Changing Role of the IT Pro

Jun 12, 2012

CIOUpdate Contributor

by Shawn Edmondson, VP of Product Strategy, rPath

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, IT professionals have very little to worry about when it comes to job security. Aside from healthcare-related services, IT ranks at the very top of nearly every list with respect to long-term job prospects.

Macro vs. micro – a role in flux

Even so, I believe that this macroeconomic view hides an important microeconomic truth for IT professionals today: Despite the stability of the IT job market, there is nothing particularly stable about the role. In fact, it’s a role that’s very much in flux. What I mean is that, despite considerable demand-side growth, IT professionals have a formidable supply-side challenge. Outsourcing, automation and, most recently, cloud computing have forced IT pros to move “up the stack” to deliver differentiated value to business.

Moving up the stack means upping the game. While demand for IT professionals will almost certainly redouble over time, so will business line expectations. There are two reasons for this.

First, IT is increasingly entwined with how companies create and sustain value and business advantage. IT has shifted from a tactical necessity for keeping the lights on to a strategic weapon for seizing opportunity through Web, mobile and social commerce, and brand engagement.

Second, consumers of IT services now have choice. Corporate IT used to be your cable company; they made you wait and there was little you could do about it. Today, Amazon, and others are just clicks away.

This sort of competition creates the free market effects that drive quality of service (QoS) and increased value on the demand side, while forcing supply-side participants to up their game or fade away.

So what does this mean for IT pros?

Credit goes to Forrester analyst Glenn O’Donnell for the words that I believe encompass the fateful choice they must make: "Be the automator, not the automated."

IT continues to deliver value by automating away the infrastructure and underlying complexity that has traditionally stood in the way of application value. By doing so, it delivers the speed and agility business lines need to make IT a true strategic weapon. As participants in this transformation, IT professionals must decide whether they want to be a catalyst or a casualty -- among the disruptors or the disrupted.

If you’re among the former, here are the patterns you should be driving toward:

  • On-demand - Where infrastructure, middleware and application are available when you need them ... on demand. No more waiting on IT translates to dramatic improvements in business agility.
  • Self-service - Where all of these services are available in a catalog, like an enterprise app store, which enables self-service requisition and provisioning to replace tickets and protracted wait times.
  • Elastic - Services are priced and consumed on an elastic basis like, dare I say it, a utility. You purchase and consume only what you use, which reduces the economic barriers to IT and improves capacity utilization for cost and energy efficiency.
  • Abstraction - Where complexity of infrastructure and underlying operating systems and middleware is hidden through standardization and automation so developers and business users can get out of the weeds to focus on applications.
  • Application centricity - Which is all that really matters to business, by the way. By reimaging IT in the image of today’s leading cloud providers, IT can get out of the weeds to focus on delivering the application value.

Automation, abstraction and self-service

Automation, abstraction and self-service delegation all point to a certain creative destruction of traditional IT roles, however and begs the question: Is this like designing yourself out of a job? I think the answer is no. It’s just the opposite. It makes you a leader in redefining how IT delivers value.

And don’t forget that there’s plenty of work to do in architecting and implementing these new delivery models. And there will continue to be plenty of work in defining and enforcing policies, building new applications and managing run-time environments.

Don’t forget that simplicity demands complexity. Elegant interfaces are enabled by tremendous complexity that is hidden from the end user. That complexity is yours to keep. The difference is that your customers now expect a single button to push instead of a hundred knobs and dials. Your challenge is make the complexity disappear.

So, be heartened by the job prospects. You’ve chosen a profession with enduring relevance. But also know that you stand at leading edge of transformational change. Whether that sounds scary or fun may determine whether you’ll be among the automators or the automated.

Shawn Edmondson is the vice president of Product Strategy rPath, which automates the assembly, provisioning and update of OS and middleware platforms. Shawn has over 17 years of experience in the software industry, serving multiple roles in software engineering, engineering management, and product management primarily at start-up software companies. Shawn joined rPath from HP Software (formerly Opsware, Inc.) where he served in several roles for the Opsware Server Automation product line, including product management for virtualization and compliance as well as engineering management for reporting and content delivery. Prior to Opsware, Shawn managed software development at Masergy, Inc., a start-up network service provider in Texas, and at TenFold Corp., an enterprise application framework start-up in San Francisco. Shawn holds a BA degree in Computer Science from Harvard College.


Tags: IT jobs, careers, IT hiring, CIO Leadership,

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