Future of jobs in a connected social world

Following is a copy of some remarks that made about the future of jobs at the IT Talent Management Conference IT18.

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Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak here today. I will start with a brief consideration of my own IT career and then consider how the changing technology landscape is reshaping for careers and for business.

When Phillip asked me to speak here today I started thinking about the origins of my IT career. I was literally standing in the kitchen at the National Trust in Sydney when the Executive Director, Wendy McCarthy, asked me if I would like to be the IT Manager.

I knew very little about technology at the time.  But soon realised that it was a tremendous amount of fun. It was ideal work as it required learning new things, and experimenting to find out the best solutions. I became a jack-of-all-trades, doing a bit of programming, some database administration, desktop support, server and network engineering, across both Windows and UNIX systems.

Then Wendy said off the cuff one day, “so what are you doing about your career?” It was an entirely novel thought. I had never considered what I was doing as more than an interesting job.

After that I pursued an IT career with diverse organisations such as Citibank, AMP, General Electric, NSW Treasury, and Westfield. And during that time I saw enterprise IT in the raw.

My career progressed and eventually worked on fascinating projects in roles such as Enterprise Architect, Software Development Manager, Project Manager, Program Director, IT Manager, and CIO.

The way that I entered the IT world, informally and without a degree or IT qualification has largely disappeared, now a Bachelor’s degree is seen as a minimum requirement for entry.

How will the digital revolution impact jobs in the future?

The job that I do now did not exist when I left school. The technologies that I work with were not even dreamed of when I started my career.

Many people today are doing jobs that didn’t exist five years ago. At the same time many jobs are being displaced by technology.

IT has been undertaking a quiet revolution over the past forty years. Most people seem to have hardly noticed that IT has been about removing jobs from businesses, automating business processes and removing clerical or manual labour positions. This process of shifting work from people to machines has been under way for over forty years and shows no signs of abating.

There are now factories that have only a handful of people to run them. I know of a chemical engineer who is retraining as a maths teacher because he is lonely at work. In his factory it is just him and the maintenance engineer working onsite. Everything else is managed centrally.

It professionals are no stranger to this process. Outsourcing took jobs out of enterprise IT during the 1990s and early 2000s. Those jobs are not coming back.

Cloud computing is the new version of outsourcing. It will take internal IT jobs out of business on significant scale over the next decade. This means that the demand for system administrators, DBAs, server and network engineers working inside businesses will reduce. Some jobs will end up like the computer operators of yesteryear, a distant memory.

Traditional bespoke or custom application development is another area under threat. Increasingly organisations will continue to move to hosted SaaS platforms. And with the evolution of online marketplaces for application development, like Elance.com or Freelancer.com.au it will no longer be necessary for companies to have high cost internal development resources on premise.

Similar processes are in play for other roles too, and not just IT professionals.

For example designers. Why pay someone to sit in your office when you can simply outsource your new logo to 99designs.com?

Even big data can be subject to outsourcing and crowdsourcing via solutions like Kaggle.com, where even big companies like GE or Merck can have 88,491 of the world’s best data scientists working on their problem.

I see a difficult future for many giants of the IT vendor world. Oracle and SAP are two examples that spring to mind.  Their business model is predicated upon installing large complex systems with long term client lock-in and high switching costs. Along with these vendors, the large systems integrator firms who do the implementations for these large systems will also face challenges. The traditional model of delivering a truckload of low paid graduates to work on a systems implementation and then charging the client high consulting rates will not be sustainable in the long term.

Ironically I see Microsoft as being well placed to weather this new environment, in particular with their enterprise footprint and products like Exchange, SharePoint, and their recent acquisition Yammer.

There was a time in the distant past where one could safely say ‘nobody ever got fired for buying IBM’. Those days are long past. This shift to cloud and SaaS is an equivalent technology revolution to the PC revolution. And this was a revolution that broke the business model for IBM. I’m not sure yet what this means for the IT industry and who will survive in the long term.

We as IT professionals need to look to our skills and position ourselves to be ahead of this trend. One thing that is worth noting, several of the startups that I’ve mentioned as part of the changing landscape are Australian in origin.

What the future hold for workers, workplaces and jobs

There are two quotes that sum up for me where we are today:

“@mpesce: We have clearly reached the point when anything of any interest is always being recorded to a device. Nothing is unseen any more.”

 

“There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.”  – Philip K. Dick

We live in the age of the quantified self. And we organise our lives by means of our smartphone apps. My Fitbit records how active I’ve been each day and allows me to compete with selected friends.

We update our status on publicly available forums like Facebook and Twitter.

This growth in social media and social sharing of personal information means that the nexus between personal private spaces and public open spaces has all but disappeared.

It also means that we are hyperconnected in ways that were impossible only a few years ago.

As Mark Pesce said in his recent TEDx talk

“Today we draw upon the knowledge, experience and intelligence of five billion others, our hyperconnected sharing now transforming learning into something utterly unprecedented.”

This means that we are also subject to more surveillance than any other generation that came before us.

As you have heard from previous speakers, the nature of recruitment is shifting. From finding a body to talent management. From finding a job to the right job finding you. From hiring for specific skills to hiring for character and training for skill.

This means that our entire social existence, which is increasingly mediated via social platforms online, now forms part of what people see when searching for us.

These social platforms are also increasingly important to users and disconnecting them from these channels during the work day is not acceptable.

Also employers are increasingly seeking to harness the online social profiles of their employees on behalf of the business. This is translating to employees becoming people with significant personal brands. Great examples of this are Charlene Li of Altimeter Group and Jeremiah Owyang formerly of Forrester then Altimeter.

How is the environment changing?

Changed competitive landscape: The digital revolution is also levelling the playing field between competitors, and being large is less advantageous than previously. Smaller competitors can form loose coalitions that provide similar scale to a larger organization without the need for capital intensive setup.

We are likely to see a reduction in the market power of big players. Some traditional businesses will fail to scan the environment and detect shifts in the consumer environment. A good example of this is the differences in adoption of new technology and business models and its impact on the performance of competitors Kogan and Harvey Norman.

New internet: Another game changer is the internet of things – things knowing information about their self and talking to each other, and enabling us to interact with them.  Thus metadata becomes increasingly important and enables the continued development of augmented reality applications such as those made possible by technologies such as Google Glass.

The internet of things will be enabled by wirelessly connected sensor technology. An interesting example of this is DNA tags as used by ethical Australian timber company Simmonds Lumber to help stamp out illegal logging. Yet this technology will have important ramifications for our personal privacy too – we will be asked to trade-off convenience for privacy.

Cost shifting to lower cost regions will continue – but those regions may change as economic shifts happen in the developed world.  That is, due to economic shifts, developed countries may evolve as lower labour cost regions.

Changing customer landscape: Power relations between business and consumers are shifting, and the shift is toward empowerment of consumers. This requires new attitudes and responses from business, and this requires customer insight which is provided by good data. Data will increasingly drive decision making and the making of meaning within businesses.

New approaches – loose coupling: Innovation will be powered by loosely coupled technical components that are joined up with loosely coupled business components. Even large businesses will need to find ways of being nimble and agile, to develop the ability to pivot rapidly in response to environmental changes.

Change cycles will increase in rapidity so businesses will need to constantly scan the external environment to assess and adapt.

Organizations will need to develop skills in entrepreneurship as an internal capability to drive innovation. If access to credit or capital becomes constrained then organic growth capability will be critical for business. Further, the ability to partner effectively with other organizations will also be critical to growth.

Effective use of resources becomes critical: Sustainability will continue to grow in importance, not just to save the environment. Sustainability will be important from both a cost control and environmental perspective.

Access to natural resources that we take for granted – such as water or petrochemicals – will become increasingly competitive.  And access to other resources needed to grow a business is also likely to be problematic.  A good example is access to credit.

New ways of doing traditional things like education and work: Schools and universities will not need to look like they do now. The need for large places and enormous investments in physical infrastructure are no longer necessary to perform the task of education.  Online education and collaboration technologies mean that we do not necessarily need to ‘go’ to school in the way we do now.

This has implications for society and business. We currently use schools as a holding bay for children while their parents are working at the office 9-5.  If young people no longer need to attend school in a physical sense then how will their parents manage, and what impact will this have on the traditional workplace?

Also the need for workers to be physically present at an office to do their work will reduce. Better communications and presence technology means that adults will also be able to work from other locations than the traditional office. Some good examples of the evolution of co-working in Australia are Hub Melbourne, or Hub Sydney, Vibewire and Fishburners in Sydney.

This will drive changes in the ways that organisations design and define their physical footprint. It also means significant changes for currently viable business models such as building and renting commercial real estate.

Yet human beings still need interaction with others. Our young people need to interact with each other physically to evolve as human beings. Adults need to connect with each other in the work context.  We have a strong social drive and these needs still need to be met.

It is likely that localised co-working spaces will continue to evolve as solutions to this need for human contact and affiliation.  No longer will we head, lemming-like, to a corporate office in the city, instead we will head to the local co-working space where we can connect virtually with our colleagues.

Rise of collaborative models – leisure, work, competition: This does not mean that competition will disappear, however it will change.  Due to increasingly scarce resources collaboration will become more important for business. Further, the question of why a business needs to do everything for itself will become important. With cloud and ubiquitous connections to the network partnering with best-of-breed service providers will be easier.

In the personal sphere collaboration is likely to increase too.  And the change will be driven by similar considerations to business.  For example, why own a car when you don’t need one all the time, especially if you can get access to one whenever you need it?

Shared resources – cars, tools, etc – will make increasing sense to people and shift the consumer culture from one of product acquisition to service adoption. Some good examples of existing collaborative consumption models include Open Shed and 99 Dresses.

The future is a distant country*

Some of my prognostications will be wrong in their particulars. But the technology trends are clear. The next decade will see the rise of new businesses fuelled by technologies that don’t exist yet.  The job I do for a living did not exist when I left school. The industry I work in did not exist at the start of my career. I can see no reason why those trends will change in future. We need to be open to the new opportunities and accept that things move faster now.

* with apologies to L.P. Hartley