Any conversation involving U.S. immigration inevitably comes around to the merits of an H-1B visa program under which a fixed number of highly-skilled IT workers are permitted to move to the U.S. For years now allegations concerning abuses of this program have been rife, and the Trump administration has promised to review the program.
Many managed service providers in the U.S. have complained that rivals based in, for example, India were abusing the program to bring skilled workers to the U.S. that they would then pay at a much lower rate to create an unfair competitive advantage. It’s been alleged that many of those workers were housed in low-cost rental apartments and paid salaries commensurate with what they might expect to make in their native countries.
Just about everybody agrees the H-1B visa program needs to be reformed to prevent abuses. The U.S. clearly wants highly-skilled workers that increase the tax base and fill gaps in IT skills. But that raises the debate about whether there is a shortage of IT people or simply not enough IT workers with skills in specific areas. If it’s the latter case, then many unemployed IT workers contend they should be trained to fill those jobs instead of giving a visa to a citizen of another country.
The impact of automation and the cloud
Like many issues, however, advances in technology can also render debates moot. Thanks to the rise of cloud computing, there’s more interest in digital business initiatives. The thing about those initiatives is once a business process becomes digitized it can be performed almost anywhere. Instead of hiring workers to perform tasks in the U.S., a few workers will be overseeing a highly automated digital task that, while being applied globally, only physically occurs within the borders of a country located half way around the world. From an IT employment perspective, there is no perceived loss of a job in the U.S. because for all intents and purposes those jobs never existed in the first place. In effect, this shift represents the next major phase of business process outsourcing.
In the meantime, what does remain in terms of IT tasks is being rapidly automated. Thanks to the rise of machine learning algorithms and a raft of software-defined IT infrastructure technologies, the days when MSPs needed to send a specialist out to tweak hardware running at a customer’s location will soon come to an end. In fact, the need for IT specialists will dramatically decline. In their place, there will be IT generalists remotely monitoring IT infrastructure who cost much less to hire — and are much easier to find.
IT vendors are investing in these technologies because they want more of the IT budget to be allocated to buying products instead of hiring people to manage those products. Because as much as 70 percent of the average IT budget is dedicated to simply keeping the lights on, the overall size of the potential market for IT technologies is constrained. Not all the savings generated by automation will find its way back into the IT budget. But IT vendors are betting that enough of it will end up in those budgets to drive further adoption of IT technologies at unprecedented levels of scale.
There’s a joke now making the rounds in IT circles these days that says the future of the data center is one person and a dog. The dog is there is to keep the person from touching anything, while the person is there to feed the dog. Obviously, that’s a bit of gallows humor. But what public policy officials have yet to come to terms with is that in most application scenarios customers no longer care to own or staff that data center. In fact, they might not even care where it’s located as long as they are in compliance with local data sovereignty regulations.
Put it all together, and it’s clear that regardless of who is sitting in the Oval Office major changes in the way IT is managed are all but inevitable. The issue facing MSPs now is figuring out what adjustments they need to make to their own business models before the rest of the world figures all this out.