IT staff are spending 30% of their time carrying out basic tasks and are growing frustrated with the lack of time left to focus on transformational work.
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The average IT worker is also only using half of the skills they possess as a result of time spent on straightforward tasks.
The findings came in a report from Quocirca, which was commissioned by IT automation software maker IPSoft. It uses data collected by research company Vanson Bourne following interviews with 100 senior IT managers at businesses with more than 1,000 staff.
"IT managers are more frustrated about poor use of skills than they are about training employees to have those skills in the first place," said the report. It has become accepted that skilled operators will have to perform day-to-day jobs and tasks for which they are over-qualified, according to the report.
The report said to overcome this problem businesses have a choice between using cheap labour to perform these tasks, which involves offshoring work, or automating tasks using software.
Because IT infrastructures are largely the same at all businesses regardless of industry, there is great potential for using standardised tools to automate tasks.
According to the report, the manufacturing sector spends the most time (40%) on low-level IT tasks. This compares with the financial services sector, where IT workers spend less than 30% of their time on low-level work.
The Quocirca report said IT management tools must be used to prevent the ineffectiveness of many IT operations spiralling out of control: "Putting in place the necessary IT management tools, services and procedures to maximise automation and to industrialise processes will address this and reduce skills wastage. The ultimate value will be the ability to efficiently manage the increasing complexity of IT infrastructure, while delivering new applications that will ensure a business remains competitive."
It is not just about getting more out of IT staff skills. There are also huge cost savings because software can replace large numbers of staff offshore.
Mobile operator O2 deployed software from Blue Prism to automate business processes, which will save millions of pounds in back-office operations and cut its reliance on offshore recruitment to cope with spikes in workload.
Offshore service providers which have grown through providing low-cost labour will have to change their business models in the face of growing software automation.
"Even offshore suppliers are automating processes because they are seeing labour arbitrage coming to an end," said Quocirca analyst Bob Tarzey.
He said through improving customer processes, systems integrators could become the biggest users of automation software.
Terry Walby, UK managing director at IPsoft, agreed. "Indian suppliers will have to fundamentally change their business models," he said.
But there are hurdles to overcome for automation to spread, such as protectionist IT departments and suppliers that want to retain the status quo.