Industrialization of IT Will Create a Blue-Collar Sub-Class of IT Workers

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The Industrialization of IT is one of my current favorite topics as I think we are at a turning point of the whole industry. But one of the biggest implications of this change is that it will reshape the workforce towards blue-collar working.

Industrialization of the IT department and the services it provides is a good thing for business. It’s good because business can get on with business stuff without being impeded by constant failures in the IT stack, including (and most importantly in) it’s processes and people. So industrialization brings a new age of robustness, dependability and professionalism.

But what else does it bring?

As far back as the sixties, Peter F. Drucker described the essential differences between factory workers and executives. The key differences are that…

…factory workers have their worked prescribed to them, their inputs and outputs are well defined and measurable, they are not required to make decisions, and they tend to work to rule. Whereas…

… executives are knowledge workers who have a vague brief but create their own work, are required to work with loosely defined input and the knowledge of others, produce ideas or knowledge for others to work with, their output is very loosely defined, and are required to work outside of a conventional work pattern.

Factory workers and IT Ops professionals will become more alike over time – the industrialization of IT will create a sub-class of blue-collar IT workers. The reason for this is that industrialization will bring in highly repeatable, mature processes that demand rigor to its application and there will be a very low tolerance for deviation. In the workforce, this will require total compliance to procedure and work patterns. It will require a worker’s productivity to be measurable. But it won’t require workers to make decisions.

What’s more, IT Ops workers will work to rule: 9 to 5 (or whatever the shift is). This isn’t because they are lazy. Workers who cannot differentiate themselves from their peers do not go above and beyond the call of duty except under extreme circumstances because there is no meritocracy. Actually, this organizational design depends on that point. Everyone must take the same amount of input, and produce the same output at the same quality for industrialization to take effect. So you won’t expect super-hero efforts from these folks!

So over time, the current workforce of highly-skilled, highly-educated, diversely applied professionals will move on or out of these roles into management positions or analyst roles who design processes, to be replaced by cheaper, less diversely-skilled workers. This will create a significant global opportunities for work in IT jobs, as the entry-level will be lower. Outsource vendors, of course, will take advantage.

It’s important for me to stress though that the quality and cost of IT services provided by IT Ops functions will improve. I’m not suggesting that organizations will employ a rabble – but they will employ the right kind of person for the right job. You don’t need bright stars capable of many great things working in a rigid job. They will be the new managers and the people who design how the work should get done. Organizations will still need top notch IT professionals working out how best to solve common issues and opportunities and make the solutions scalable, repeatable and commercial.

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5 thoughts on “Industrialization of IT Will Create a Blue-Collar Sub-Class of IT Workers”

  1. This is a very interesting industry dynamic, the shift from high value to commodity… Nick Carr’s ‘Does IT Matter’ etc.

    Its also very interesting to see the changes from a staffing and people perspective as things move on…

  2. simonstapleton

    @Bruce: It is an interesting development – and maybe one that a lot of organizations aren’t fully aware of. I think there will be room though for the seasoned experts as these folks will be the decision makers on how the services and underlying processes will be engineered, and in fact their responsibility and contribution is going to increase significantly

  3. >and maybe one that a lot of organizations aren’t fully aware of

    Sure… seeing your industry move into a commodity mindset can’t be easy to take on. That said, there is always a silver lining and plenty of opportunities for those that want to act 🙂

  4. @Simon – isn’t the net effect that wages for the surviving “blue collar” IT grunts (used in the ‘military’ sense of that word) will continue to fall until there’s some sort of ‘global’ parity across regions where the human capital supply is being sourced from?

    That is, in simple terms, the combined effects of increasing automation, remote access via Internet connectivity and large numbers of educated developing world IT peeps, will mean enrollments by developed world students in CS and related disciplines will continue to decline?

    On the brighter side I do see emerging roles for the IT-literate business-facing staffers who can help to define deliverables, set expectations and then see that those get done to the satisfaction of the business.

    So, what would a student study if they decided on such a career? Project Management engineering?

    Or if someone in the “blue collar” firing line wanted to start retraining before the changes come? Maybe join an outsourcing corp and get some PM certs/experience??

    There must be a ‘black swan’ event lurking in the global business soup too, you know…

  5. Pingback: Simon Stapleton on “The Industrialization of IT” - Eric D. Brown

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