Gartner researchers have warned that as many as 50% of the IT operational jobs in the US could disappear in the next 20 years because of improvements in datacentre technologies.
Gartner analyst Donna Scott said IT workers face a situation similar to that in manufacturing, which has lost jobs over several decades as automation has improved.
Similarly, standardisation of IT infrastructure, applications and processes will lead to productivity improvements and a major shift in skill needs, she said.
"There will be more room to automate, and that means there will be reduced labour cost," said Scott. "This is a long-term change."
Gartner calls this change "real-time infrastructure", which involves service-oriented architectures, the elimination of communications barriers and dynamic alignment of IT with business priorities.
Technologies enabling the shift have less need for human intervention because they are more intelligent and can automatically provision services and self-heal.
IT operations - which encompass areas such as systems administration, incident response and change management - today account for about 55% of an IT department's labour cost, said Scott.
But as companies improve automation, IT operations become "more like a factory", said Scott.
Demand will grow for employees who have IT architecture skills as well as those with business and customer-liaison knowledge. Project management, for instance, will rise in terms of the percentage of IT labour costs, she said.
Reaction varied among the 1,500 visitors to the annual Gartner datacentre conference where the announcement was made.
Stevan Lewis, director of enterprise planning for BMO Financial Group, a 34,000-employee financial services company, said he believed that about 25% of operational jobs will shift to other IT areas - mostly low-end work.
Patrick Thibodeau writes for Computerworld