Cloud computing - that loosely defined confederation of technologies and principles that turns physical servers, storage units and network routers into an easily managed resource from which workers and companies consume and pay for only the IT they need - remains one of the most promising newer technology concepts. Clouds should provide flexibility, nimbleness and self-service to IT. What could be better?
When State Street came out this month and said it was laying off or outsourcing 850 IT employees, partly due to IT efficiency and cloud computing initiatives, it became clear what would be better: An environment in which innovation and new opportunities grew new jobs as fast as the maturation of old opportunities killed off old jobs.
As State Street CIO Chris Perretta said recently, technology changes jobs. "To think that the workforce won't change with the nature of what we do in technology is crazy," he said.
In some ways, it is a sign of the times. As this issue went to press, large-scale layoffs were back in the news, including at Borders, Goldman Sachs and Nationwide Insurance. Firms and industries are under pressure from their boards, their shareholders and their own reduced revenue streams to drive costs down.
Technological change and efficiency-enhancing initiatives played a role in many of the cuts. As Perretta noted, certain jobs, such as database administrator and network manager, can be automated by cloud and IT management software and are unlikely to ever come back.
President Obama may have had a point when he blamed ATMs for the high rate of unemployment in this country. "There's some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers," he said in June, after being asked about a report that shows businesses were spending two percent more on employees since the recession officially ended, but 26 percent more on equipment. "You see it when you go to a bank and ... you use an ATM, you don't go to a bank teller. Or you go to the airport, and you're using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate."
The remark seemed odd, given that ATMs have been around since the 60s. Yet it is true that as banks have ramped up their online and mobile banking channels, branch traffic has dropped, and this trend will only continue.
As the economy strengthens, innovation is the only way to drive business growth and create new jobs. Mike Kennedy's clearXchange is an encouraging example. This startup/joint venture among Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Chase will create new mobile payment products and in turn, potentially, create hundreds of new bank technology jobs. This is the kind of leadership that will bring banks back to growth, both in hiring and revenue.