Cloud computing has given organizations worldwide on-tap access to compute power, storage, and applications, resulting in a huge boost in flexibility coupled with cost savings. A new study foretells that the IT workforce soon may become the next on-tap resource thanks to the cloud, which could mean even greater agility and lower costs for companies — but it could also hurt job security and breed resentment among tech pros.
Commissioned by Dell and Intel, "The Evolving Workforce Report" (part one of a series) aims to identify and explore future trends and themes pertaining to the workplace and workforce, honing in on the role technology plays. As part of that trend — what the report refers to as "crowdsource services" — full-time IT departments will be supplemented or replaced by far-flung contract freelancers or teams that are thrown piecemeal projects on-the-fly in JIT (just in time) fashion.
What’s more, the traditional nine-to-five schedule with employees working in at computers on their desks, in primarily siloed fashion, will continue to fade away. Instead, workers will have more flexible schedules and able to do their tasks via any number of computing devices at all hours of the day. Employee performance will gauged by output instead of hours logged.
There are potential benefits to this evolution, the report notes, such as the aforementioned boost in flexibility, coupled with a reduction in costs. In theory, organizations will be able to assign projects on an as-needed basis to the ideal worker. For example, a company with branches spread worldwide could rapidly pinpoint and contract the perfect candidates to address a support desk problem for a remote office in Denver, a security breach in London, or a data center outage in Dubai, without having to keep expensive full-timers on call in those locations. Further, the model enables organizations to rapidly add, say, developers to a meaty project that’s falling behind schedule.
Additionally, the evolution means more people — through crowdsourcing — can more easily contribute their expertise, potentially on a 24/7 basis as organization recruit workers overseas. "Due to the rise of pervasive ICT and the development of cloud computing, it will be easier to distribute more tasks and services and to invite input from a community through crowdsourcing," the report notes.
The report rightly points out potential drawbacks to this malleable JIT model of the IT workforce. From a technical standpoint, companies will need to figure out how to accommodate the different platforms their employees and contractors might use. There’s also the challenge of assigning, tracking, and managing the work from legions of disparate workers.
Further, the report points to potential security concerns as organizations expose computing resources, data, and projects to more outsiders. Also, IT managers might be pressured to embrace new technologies are a faster pace than they’re accustomed to, creating compatibility and security headaches.
From an organizational standpoint, IT managers will need to acclimate to forming and managing teams of potential strangers — at times representing different nationalities and cultures — charged with working together on a single task, only to be disbanded when the project is complete, the report says. This approach "makes it increasingly difficult for companies to build a uniﬁed workforce, sharing common values and goals," the report notes.
This workplace of tomorrow might not bode well for the IT professional in terms of job security, though. As full-time, salaried positions become less prevalent, IT workers could find themselves competing against peers around the world for jobs, according to the report. "Strong resistance is expected from many parts of the labor force in the same way as outsourcing and globalization is seen by many to be damaging," according to the report. "The gap will widen between the best workers and the worst in terms of opportunities and earnings, contributing to greater income inequality and therefore potential social unrest."
Advances in cloud computing, mobile computing, and collaboration tools continue to represent the double-edged sword of the Internet age. In the ideal world, these technologies provide organizations with an opportunity to harness the best and brightest minds across the globe, day and night, thus driving innovation faster than ever before. What’s more, the potential cost savings are significant, as certain IT-oriented tasks are sensibly outsourced on an contract, as-needed basis.
The risk, though, is that CEOs may become too fixated on the purely bottom-line benefits to the point that they view their knowledge workers as just another disposable commodity — and shop for application developers or network administrators the same way they shop for generic servers. Organizations that choose to simply opt for the cheapest IT labor that money can buy will get precisely what they pay for: workers that have limited incentive to deliver anything more than what’s precisely spelled out in the contract of the day. Worst yet, they may find themselves more likely targets of hacking, corporate espionage, and data theft, as their contract employees may be similarly fixated on their own profits over all else. Resentment may also extend to increasingly frustrated advocates of social changes, the likes of which are making their voices heard through the Occupy movement that’s swept the nation and beyond.
In that light, corporate leaders will hopefully realize that there are tangible and intangible benefits to recruiting and retaining IT pros with fair wages and rewards, the types of which inspire knowledge workers to fully contribute their skills and knowledge in helping organizations flourish and innovate. Speed alone, after all, doesn’t determine which organizations come out ahead; it’s the companies that can execute the brightest ideas the fastest.