Is in-house enterprise IT on death row?

No, but it's changing dramatically, says Preston Gralla

The latest news from HP should be chilling to IT employees: The company is eliminating 9000 IT positions. Forrester Research analyst James Staten told Computerworld US it is probable IT operations jobs such as systems administrators will bear the brunt of the layoffs.

This should come as no surprise. Cloud computing has already passed from the realm of hype, to having a significant impact on businesses. And infrastructure and IT has become a way of life at many enterprises.

Is IT in the enterprise dying? It is not as far-fetched as you might think. Imagine, for a moment, that a company is starting a business today. It has a choice about how to handle its computer infrastructure. It can build a network, install countless servers and many applications, pay staff to maintain and update all of them, and be responsible for uptime 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or, it can outsource much of its network and applications — or perhaps have them live in the cloud — and have some other company take care of its datacentre and applications, as well as the headaches.

For a small company, the choice is an easy one: Pay for virtual IT, not on-site staff. Increasingly, small companies are turning to cloud computing and similar services, rather than deploying their own infrastructure with an IT staff. Of course, large enterprises don't start from scratch, and they can't outsource that easily. But they are outsourcing more and more. And as for those start-ups, some eventually grow into large companies. If they are hooked on virtual IT from the beginning, they are not likely to need a sizable IT staff once they grow.

There are other reasons that IT in enterprises is in trouble. Even companies that don't move towards the cloud need less infrastructure these days than they did in the past. Virtualisation and blade servers allow companies to consolidate datacentres, requiring fewer IT staff to provide the same amount of services as previously — or even provide more services than previously. In addition, automated management tools increase IT productivity, allowing companies to do more with less as well.

All this sounds bleak. The truth is, though, that IT is not going away any time soon, or possibly ever. But IT does need to recognise that its job is changing very quickly and for IT staff members, it 's either change or die.

What is IT's new job? Providing services to make the business run more effectively, rather than maintaining hardware and software. That means IT staff may no longer be in charge of an enterprise's plumbing. But it will be in charge of something far more important matching a company's business needs to its technology needs, and securing the right solution, even if someone else does the implementing. Business smarts may ultimately become as important as technology smarts.

Manesh Patel, CEO of San Jose-based electronics manufacturer Sanmina-SCI, put it succinctly to Computerworld US when he explained, "IT is becoming more of a service-oriented organisation, providing more value-added services, with less emphasis on [maintaining inhouse] systems, networks and architectures".

And what is happening at HP is a perfect example as well. Although the company is laying off 9000 IT staff, it will also be hiring 6000 new employees. HP is looking for people who can sell and deliver IT services.

What does this mean to you? If you're in IT, it's time to learn new skills — less about the network and applications, and more about how they can be used to run a business more effectively.

Gralla is a technology writer in the US