The days of humans having any involvement in IT are numbered, at least according to the key message of Knowledge 14, the conference hosted by enterprise IT cloud company ServiceNow in San Francisco.
The Santa Clara firm has set out its vision to "transform IT by automating and managing IT service relationships across the global enterprise". CEO Frank Slootman made his position absolutely clear, arguing that the service model is the way forward as it will enable systems to function in the complete absence of people.
"The IT organisation in enterprise is overstaffed and under-automated, sometimes ridiculously so. Why is that? Why are there so many damn people and so little automation? You just haven't gotten around to it," he said.
"You look at things in terms of how do I do this without hands? How do I do this without anybody touching this? It's fully automated, it's light speed. That should be the design centre for every service that gets implemented."
Slootman argued that humans have designed many IT functions in such a way that people are required in order for them to work properly, something he believes is damaging to efficiency, despite what the approach offers in terms of staying in gainful employment.
"They designed job security right back into these damn applications even though they don't have to," he said, arguing that IT processes should be designed on the assumption that human input isn't required and that "if they have to be reinserted at some level, there better be a damn good reason why people are needed in that process".
Slootman conceded that the resultant job losses could be "scary" but nonetheless argued that IT departments are "bloated and ridiculously expensive and have to downsize". He went on to give an example of an unnamed Wall Street bank which cut 1,000 people from its IT department after deploying ServiceNow products, making savings of millions.
However, not everybody believes that improving the company's bottom line is the main benefit of this solution. Mike Carraway, senior IT director at open source software provider – and ServiceNow customer – Red Hat, believes that such solutions enable the IT team to spend time focusing on other projects.
"Automation and self-service: they're critical enablers for us to spend less time there and more time closer to something innovative," he told Computing.
However, when asked whether the use of such services could result in IT job losses, Carraway admitted that there are some who are worried about the possibility, but they shouldn't be too concerned, at least in the short term.
"I think anytime there's a technology step function change it's probably natural for people to have that concern and I've certainly had those kinds of conversations with folks," he said.
"The thing we're trying to point out to them is that we've been spending some time talking about the IT of the future with CIOs, the IT of three years from now … and trying to paint that picture for folks that there's still actually a lot work to be done, just not all of it," Carraway continued, once again adding that for him, the main benefit of self-service is that it allows IT more time to solve business problems, rather than basic computer issues.
"I emphasise 'all' because we'll still be in the managed infrastructure business, of course, but proportionally we'll be able to spend more of that time closer to business and solving those problems. So we're trying to get ahead of that as an IT shop right now rather than being at the tail end of it," he said.
But despite all of Slootman’s talk of replacing IT staff with automated systems, Carraway believes that there will "absolutely" always be a need for an IT department populated by actual humans in any large organisation, something he believes especially to be the case at Red Hat.
"We are a technology company and pride ourselves on the technical capabilities that we have as an IT team as part of that company, so technical prowess will continue to be a part for us," he said.
However, Slootman ultimately believes that automation and self-service IT processes will eventually be the norm.
"We're just scratching the surface because people are so heavily involved in these processes," he said.
"As a society, I'm telling you, we're going to move dramatically to substitution from people to systems. You ain't seen nothing yet."