2017 – An Inflection Year for Digital Labor in Enterprise IT?

Bruce Guptill, Ron Exler Research Alerts

What is Happening?

A review of both enterprise client hiring plans and third-party insights indicate a significant and accelerating information technology skills shortage that will continue, and likely grow, through 2017. And unfortunately, that shortage looks to be worst among skills critical to the development and growth of digital business – i.e., IT security, Cloud, and data analytics and management.

Our net take: These shortages will hasten enterprise moves toward more, and more advanced, methods of staff augmentation, including more aggressive outsourcing, more and better skills training, and greater deployment of digital labor in IT through 2017. In some places, governments are stepping in to fund technology training.

Why is it Happening?

Our ongoing research among C-level business and IT leaders clearly indicates the significance of Digital Business development and improvement, as well as the challenges in finding necessary skills such as advanced IT security, data science, and associated analytics and data management. It’s becoming clear that business and IT leaders alike face a skills shortage that threatens their enterprises’ ability to develop and grow Digital Business initiatives.

Figure 1: Digital Business Signposts

Digital Business Signposts

Source: ISG Insights Digital Business Survey among C-level Business/IT Leaders, Nov. 2015 (n=129), & Sept. 2016 (n=141)

Meanwhile, our assessment of hiring plans among enterprise clients, supported by analysis of published third-party research, indicates stagnant IT hiring through 2017. The majority of market data highlight limited (and limiting) technology hiring expectations amongst IT leaders. For example, TEKsystems’ annual IT Forecast reports that 63% of IT leaders expect 2017 IT salaries to stay the same overall compared to 2016. The Robert Half Technology’s IT Hiring Forecast and Local Trends Report says that only 16% of CIOs plan to add more IT staff in the first half of 2017, and 69% plan to hire only for open IT roles. Economic factors exacerbate the flat IT hiring projections, with some economists saying that 2017 will see flat or low growth accompanied by global political and economic uncertainties.

Net Impact

We believe that this stagnation (or at best, very limited growth) in IT hiring will help make 2017 an inflection point in the growth of digital labor adoption, especially within enterprise IT organizations. We already see a clear influence of automation on the cost of IT outsourcing (ITO) and business process outsourcing (BPO) services. Providers’ automation of several traditional aspects of IT operations and management is increasing sharply, leading to upwards of a 50 percent reduction in the number of resources required to support core IT operations services. This, in turn, is leading to significant cost reductions for data center, application management, service desk, and network services customers. We see these approaches both (1) increasing some enterprises’ ability and desire to outsource, and (2) providing examples to enterprises as to how they can address hiring needs when budgets fall short.

2017 will not be the year that software and robots replace highly-skilled IT staff, however. The state-of-the-art in IT automation replaces people in some of the more simplistic IT areas, such as operations monitoring and help desk. Extending automation to more intricate tasks requiring greater skill levels is complex, and outside of today’s capabilities. That being said, we see rapidly increasing use of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in both provider and enterprise IT; RPA supports additional complexity, and will be key to extending automation beyond the simple tasks.

Digital labor will not only be deployed in IT operations. Our work with clients in areas such as Finance, Human Resources, and Contact Center suggests that more than two-thirds of these business areas will see significant RPA adoption by 2020.

While automation can reduce staffing and associated costs, it doesn’t directly solve the problem of lack of people with expertise in required technology domains. Enterprises can resolve the lack of expertise through training or by hiring beyond current sources.  For that, we see 2017 also being an inflection year in the growth of advanced IT skills training in security and data science.

Some governments are stepping in to help with technology training. The U.S. White House TechHire initiative is a campaign to expand local tech sectors by working with companies in building technology-talent pipelines in communities across the country. There are now more than 50 TechHire communities in the U.S. and the government recently released $150 million in new Department of Labor TechHire grants for training.

Programs such as TechHire should close some of the skills gap and address concerns many companies have in light of some of the populist attitudes in many regions against corporations that outsource work to offshore locations.