I had discussed sometime back in my article on “Information Technology – shrinking industry and outsourcing Imperatives” in September 2012 that the Information Technology industry is going through a major discontinuity and companies will face significant challenge of growth as well as employees will face the challenge of reskilling and continued employment.
It is evident from the events that have unfolded since. IBM sold their PC business and now considering selling off their low end server business. This year they have announced workforce layoffs. HP announced a 15000 workforce layoffs and were considering selling off their PC business but later held back. Nokia and Blackberry are making significant losses and since then Nokia has been sold to Microsoft. Motorola cell phone business was acquired by Google. Dell acquired Perot Systems and has since unlisted itself and fully acquired back by Michael Dell. Apple is facing significant challenges on volume growth and new products. Facebook facing growth challenges where at one time it was considered an iconic company. They recently acquired Whatsapp to continue to play in social media space. Infosys, Wipro are facing growth challenges. Companies like HCL, TCS, CTS are demonstrating nonlinear (not correlated with increase in employees) growth. All these events support the significant discontinuity being faced by ICT industry.
There are about 10 million workers globally in the ICT Industry and about 3 million of them are in India. The ICT industry got created when business adapted computers for automation, integration and globalization. With advent of internet the ICT industry flourished. From batch based information processing systems where data was entered and processed overnight to generate reports to help businesses, to online systems where data is available online and with any time anywhere access to make business decisions.
There are significant discontinuities being faced in the industry today whereas in the past the changes were incremental and gradual and industry and employees could adopt them and stay relevant in the current environment. Now with the advent of cloud based systems where computers are not owned by businesses but rented and used in a pay per use environment. With advent of packages and now micro applications on the web, the businesses are no longer implementing large monolithic applications or packages but stitch together a lot of small almost free or very low cost applications to make do for their business needs. With the advent of internet of things where all devices and not just computers are connected in real time and computers themselves are not stand alone devices but form a component of other devices like televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, home security and surveillance, cell phones, watches, medical devices, toys etc.; the ICT industry will no longer remain ICT but will soon become fragmented into many other devices industry which are specialized and no longer will exist in its present form as a standalone industry.
With such large scale discontinuity of businesses giving up the IT departments completely and going for end user defined systems, with employees of ICT no longer having their identity as ICT but belonging to a part of other devices industry the requirement for such workforce which is dedicated to ICT will shrink significantly.
What should the people do in this case and what should the ICT service companies do to survive this onslaught?
The people in the ICT industry in my opinion would need to reskill themselves into ICT skills combined with skillsets of devices or cloud based products and platforms that they have closest experiences with. They will also need to reskill themselves on modern algorithms that process unstructured data like audio, video, pictures as well as conflicting data into their context. They will need to apply these skills to interfaces with devices and rules for operating the devices for automated decisions within limits of behavior. Only exceptional conditions will need human interventions. Such systems will become very large and complex and interdependent. They will need to have skills to connect with such systems and isolate behaviors which may cause system instability and cascading impacts. These are totally new skills and previously only applied in very advance applications of cognitive behavior and artificial intelligence but these will become common place in the ICT industry folks. People who are able to transform themselves by learning these skills have a good chance of survival and create very high demand for them in the industry. Other people will struggle to find jobs in regular ICT streams.
The businesses will compete heavily to adapt to such systems when available and use the new microenvironments and do it yourselves applications to create fast real time analytical applications that can run the business in a steady state and only seek interventions when very complex and exceptional conditions are reached. They will shed their workers which have generic skills and will use fewer highly skilled workers to transform their businesses into this new paradigm. Businesses which such transform themselves will provide a very high level of personalized self service to its customers and react in real time to customer needs. These businesses will have very low cost of operations and will be highly efficient, agile to change and customer oriented. Businesses which are not able to transform themselves such will not be able to survive the competitive conditions imposed by the transformed organizations.