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Digital Transformation Advice: 'Be The Automator, Not The Automated'

Forrester Research’s Glenn O'Donnell says that automation technologies will produce massive job losses --as well as an influx of new jobs -- within the next decade.

The next stages of digital transformation will increasingly revolve around IT automation, with massive numbers of jobs both eliminated and created -- and huge implications for solution providers.

That was the message from Glenn O'Donnell, vice president and research director at Forrester Research, who spoke during XChange 2018 Monday, offering a stark look at how the economy will be reshaped by automation technologies.

[Related: Forrester SVP: VMware Is One Of The 'Exciting' Stars Of IT Automation Era]

O'Donnell told solution providers that by 2027, 17 percent of current jobs will be eliminated by automation.

However, new jobs created through automation are expected to make up for 10 percent of the current total, for a net loss of 7 percent of jobs by 2027, he said.

Technology is "transforming business at a more blistering pace than it ever has before, and the consequences are just so much bigger," O'Donnell said during his keynote at XChange 2018, being held this week in San Antonio and hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company. "We do believe we are on the precipice of something really big here. Automation is starting to come together in a way we haven't seen before."

In total, Forrester has determined that 85 percent of jobs will be affected in some way by automation by 2027, although O'Donnell said he thinks the real figure will be "close to 100 percent."

While that doesn't seem like a long time for such sweeping change to affect the job market, "in tech terms, nine years [is] a long time," he said.

His advice to solution providers: "Be the automator, not the automated."

Even many jobs in tech are "grunt work," he said.

If you have a job that is repetitive enough to be subject to automation, "go out and put yourself out of the job," O'Donnell said. "Be the one that creates the automation."

It's imperative that solution providers gain or hire skills in software development, O'Donnell said.

"If you're not writing code today, you better start," he said. "The more you can build in your arsenal of software development capabilities, the better. Writing software for customers -- that’s what they need."

Solution providers can also prove their value in the automation-heavy future economy by taking the complexity out of bringing together disparate technologies for end customers, O'Donnell said.

"Out of the box is a joke. Nothing works out of the box," he said. "The customers need help, the vendors need help. It's hard stuff. This is where your expertise comes in. You can help drive this into their business. … Taking complexity and simplifying it so it works for [customers], that's magic. And they'll pay through the nose for that."

Ultimately, those working in the tech industry "really don't have much to fear," O'Donnell said. "If you continue to change, you're going to make more money."

Chad Hodges, vice president of business development at Rancho Cordova, Calif.-based Enterprise Networking Solutions, said that "being in IT, we hear about automation all the time. But the reality of whether or not we're doing any automation is sometimes in question for a lot of traditional providers."

For MSPs, however, "automation can really make you a lot more profitable," he said. "Because if you can automate remediation of simple tasks like patch management, you can start to become a lot more credible to your clientele. But then you can also become more profitable because you're not having to put a body out there and expend the labor cost to dispatch somebody."

As for Forrester's predictions for the job market as a result of automation, "it's a little scary to hear about the ramp of potential job loss," Hodges said. "But to his point, in our field, being IT folk, we should be fine as long as we're continuing to evolve."

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