Outsourcing, network intelligence trends threaten to pare down IS departments

You might not have heard any footsteps yet, but movements are afoot that could end up reducing the size of your everyday IS staff by a significant number, if not eliminating it all together.

While not all of these trends are guaranteed to come to fruition, it seems to be a safe bet that many of their implications will become realities. Perhaps you’ve heard their stomping loud and clear, perhaps you’ve heard a few strange rumbles, or perhaps you haven’t heard anything at all. But there’s no doubt they’re there, growing, getting louder.

Chief among them is the trend towards network management outsourcing. Increasingly, corporations are being invited to – for a fee – offload their network troubles and management headaches to the ready and willing hands of third parties specializing in such areas. Companies of no small reputation and track record, such as Bell and Telus, are diving into this business with as much fervour as an Olympic swimmer into a pool for a gold-medal race.

Not many eyebrows would be raised if these ventures made a huge splash in the minds of corporate leaders who have heard one too many horror stories from there IS managers. After all, with the marketing clout and the huge financial resources that these companies can pour into their services divisions, it seems quite probable that the message of “Give us your network – and your headaches” will ring loud and clear with many a CEO.

After a network is outsourced, the obvious question that arises is, “What about those people who were hired internally to manage it?” You’ll hear a lot of answers filled with hot air when this question is posed to services vendors, but is you can see through the thick gas of it all, it will become apparent that there is no pretty answer to this one. The best-case scenario is that the people no longer needed by the firms that have said adios to direct management of their networks will land similar positions in the services shops.

There is no doubt that this will happen, but to what degree? Any guarantees that every displaced network manager and administrator will find a similar position with a new firm is preposterous.

And even if this is the case, will salary levels remain the same? If the number of available positions dwindles, the network management talent market becomes a buyer’s one, with the inevitable result that remuneration for such skills dwindles as well.

A softer set of footsteps, but no doubt equal to the outsourcing trend in the danger it poses to IS job security, is the move towards more intelligent networks. Increasingly, routers and switches are being beefed up with embedded software, giving them the ability to do things on their own that previously had to be done by a person. These intelligent devices can look deeper into the packets that cross their paths, and can in turn discern what those packets want to do, and what other packets they want to do it with.

As these traditionally “dumb” traffic management devices that have directed ones and zeros across networks for decades are infused with more brain power, the reliance on human hands to manage traffic declines. While it can be assumed that routing and switching will never be flawless sciences, it’s hard not to see that this “smartening-up” trend is moving these practices ever closer to networking nirvana. Less problems on the network mean less people needed to manage it.

Network administrators can be reassured by the fact that these footsteps have not yet developed into the rumblings of a charging horde just yet. But staffers should keep their ears to the ground for any increase in volume, and be prepared to live with this unsavoury development in the ever-changing world of network management.