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Cloud society: Cloud computing will not create jobs, good business will
Reports that cloud computing is a massive job creation scheme are far from the truth. It's time we got more realistic
Technology is great, isn’t it? I mean, where would we be without all these computers? I’ll put my cards on the table: I’m delighted to be living in the here and now, in the midst of the information revolution.
More than that, I feel profoundly lucky. Every morning I jump out of bed with an extra spring in my step just contemplating all the exciting ways in which our business, cultural and social lives can be improved through the use of such powerful capabilities.
I really believe the potential impact of IT to be profound. Which is why I am genuinely astonished when I see poorly constructed research, based on a tenuous premise, seeing the light of day. Like, for example, IDC’s recent study, sponsored by Microsoft, about cloud computing’s role in job creation. Read it and weep.
The “rationale”, we are told, “is that IT innovation allows for business innovation, which leads to business revenue, which leads to job creation.” From this simple statement is derived pages and pages of extrapolation based on another assumption – that jobs created "match the industry mix by job function." We are told about "equation with offsetting elements" but we’re not told what it is.
Now, one could go into detail on specific figures based on industry sectors, regions or designated market areas – New York is going to see six times more growth in cloud-generated jobs than Los Angeles, apparently. But there really is little point, you see, as the basic starting point for the whole discussion is complete and utter bunkum.
Outside of startups, those hundreds of companies employing hundreds of staff, there will be no jobs created as a result of adopting cloud computing. None. Zero. To think that there will be, displays a completely skewed and naïve view of both how business actually works and the role of IT within it.
Think. You’re a general manager at Wal Mart, or Pfizer, or SNCF or the NHS. You’re making strategic decisions about what needs to be done to get more competitive, grow new markets, deliver services more efficiently. Then the CIO tells you that you can use Amazon’s infrastructure, or Salesforce.com. Whatever your first reaction is going to be, it’s not “Wow, that means I can get rid of all that legacy computer power, become more innovative and take on a bunch of new hires.”
Business life is much, much more complex than that. And cloud computing is still at an early stage. If it even exists – few with any technical nouse believe ‘private cloud’ to be any more than a marketing rehash of dynamic IT management mechanisms that have been espoused for at least a decade. Sure, the capability to provision virtual machines gets us a whole lot closer to the dream, but few IT departments are sufficiently dynamic themselves to fully exploit the benefits.
Despite these inconsistencies, according to the report, the cloud model has already accounted for the creation of nearly 7 million jobs worldwide – that’s right, we’re almost half way to the headline figure of 1.5 million new jobs by 2015! Oh, if it were only true in these troubled economic times! Sadly, it’s simply not, unless we start counting every single intern who has been allocated a Basecamp login.
The reality is that cloud computing is a good thing, presenting a new set of procurement and management options that organisations large and small are still getting their heads around. Meanwhile, savvy business leaders are looking to grow their revenues, taking smart decisions and the occasional gamble, building relationships with key customers and developing new products to meet emerging needs.
Within that framework, of course technology plays a role. The financial services sector has huge opportunities to use information for both better governance and more innovative products. Manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, retail and all other sectors may be just scratching the surface of how they use technology. Government stands to benefit both in how it uses services, and the services it delivers to citizens and agencies.
But to suggest that cloud computing has a direct role in job creation is a massive distraction. Worse than that, it’s a clear illustration to business decision makers that IT is still completely out of touch with how business actually works, and the role of technology within the financial and operational framework of the enterprise. If we really want organisations to reap the rewards of the cloud, we’re going to have to do better than this.