Meteorological attack. Second front – Workforce

After dealing with Cloud vs Users case it’s time to take a look behind the scenes and uncover what else is impacted by Clouds and what the impacts are. We have already established that for users move to the cloud means parting with their data, it surely means the same thing to business entities, after all they are too users. Let’s get beyond that. If you’ve ever read “No Logo” by Naomi Klein you are familiar with the chapter “No Jobs” that follows immediately after “No Choice”. It looks like the order of chapters is not coincidental. The process of dissociation of corporation with manufacturing process and workforce is like the mushroom cloud – both stunning and horrifying.

It’s not required to read No Logo to understand simple principles at work. Principles and mechanics employed by corporations in their search of “brand identity” and “brand experience”. As usual it comes with some collateral damage:

No Choice

…Dazzled by the array of consumer choices we may at first fail to notice the tremendous consolidation taking place in the boardrooms of the entertainment, media and retail industries. Advertising floods us with the kaleidoscopic soothing images of United Streets of Diversity and Microsoft’s  wide-open “Where do you want to go today?” enticements. But in the pages of the business section the world goes monochromatic and doors slam shut from all sides: every other story – whether the announcement of a new buyout, an untimely bankruptcy, a collossal merger – points directly to a loss of meaningful choices…

So how does it translate to IT? It’s an attempt to wipe out diversity by “streamlining business practises” and “bringing them closer to the base”. Say, institution has been priding itself in it’s uniqueness in catering to a very specific customer base and generating quite a loyal following. Institution that stood out and can’t be matched by others only because… of it’s unique business practises.  However in the boardrooms this must’ve looked annoying or out of place because the decision has been made to “consolidate”, “streamline” and “merge”. In other words – all the products that are used by competition “as-is” and “out-of-the-box” are to be applied to this institution as well essentially wiping it’s uniqueness. The only logical conclusion would be that institution is being moved in the “branding” direction where product is essentially the same and service about the same as the rest but what is sold is “brand” and “experience”, not the product itself (not surprisingly since it’s the same product):

The difference between products and brands is fundamental. A product is something that is made in a factory; a brand is something that is bought by a customer

No Jobs

…corporations should not expend their finite resources on factories that will demand physical upkeep, on machines that will corrode or on employees who will certainly age and die. Instead, they should concentrate those resources in the virtual brick and mortar used to build their brands; that is, on sponsorship, packaging, expansion and advertising…

So after “No choice” invariably comes “No Jobs”. Discussed institution in this case is not exception. There is a clear sense of direction in cleansing institution of any traces of IT department outsourcing most critical applications and systems. Institution doesn’t want to burden itself with infrastructure or workforce, it needs to concentrate on what’s important – building image. Resulting in exploded marketing departments (or just expanded budgets outsourcing that activity someplace else) and reduced funding for manufacturing and R&D.

Above principles no longer apply strictly to corporations and other businesses. Now they are applied to governments and government institutions as well as education.

Some naive people assume that government is there to serve people or that education should be accessible by people and serve people’s needs. Only in case of ongoing “branding” government serves businesses believing in “trickle down effect” that has never been proved to work and education is serving business needs of companies and government. Application of business rules in government and education sectors has devastating effects: hollow and emasculated they can’t serve people anymore and have to abide by business rules serving only what business demands. Which for education means that you can’t produce any more “free thinkers” or offer “non-marketable” programs because there’s no business need for them. So instead of government shaping the economy and busineses we have businesses serving themselves with hollow government watching the carnage from afar unable to do anything.

Current hysteria about financial crisis provides fertile ground for those seeking excuses to enact “touch measures”, “trim the fat” and “streamline operations” at expense of workers, taxpayers and customers. It’s a “disaster capitalism” at work: create or wait for a crisis and then while people are dazed and confused implement everything you’ve dreamed about bypassing all the normal processes excusing yourself by extraordinary situation at hand and repeating “ad nauseum”: “In a critical time like this we have to act fast.”

What is that magic bullet that can kill that undying beast of IT department? It’s all on the frontpages of magazines – “Cloud”. Single word that spells emasculation of IT departments everywhere and narrowing of choices for consumers as well. For a government that seeks to hollow itself out it’s a prime destination.

What was previously known as “outsourcing” and became lame and unpopular over time is now called “cloud computing” and is shoved down everybody’s throat using every possible excuse.

Favourite argument of cloud-defenders is that “computing” is “new electricity” and “cloud provider” is new equivalent of “power company” with companies paying for computational power like they do for electricity. However it’s not enough for company to move infrastructure. Once it has made that step – why not make the second step and go to SAAS instead? Running VM’s on the cloud is not sexy, plus it creates tons of problems with security VPNs and it doesn’t resolve the “problem” of having IT staff. Once everything is hosted by SAAS provider you have no worries. The only insulation required is the contract. Cloud computing started as an idea of running VMs on the remote infrastructure yet still managed by a company staff, but with time term got overloaded with much more meaning making it impossible to differentiate one proposition from another and  creating new common ground for understanding. Now cloud computing equals outsourcing.

“Cloud” is what powers the transition from “unique organization” and “self-sufficient organization” to “No Choice” and “No Jobs”. Incantation that has a viral effect essentially wiping off any living cell in it’s path. “Cloud” takes all that annoyance of managing IT and removes it from institution. What’s interesting – it removes it in “unknown” direction. From that point on Institution is free of workforce and infrastructure, while whoever runs the “Cloud” is bound by limited contractual agreements and operating most likely in un-unionized environment and is free to expand and contract at will having only “temp” staff in it’s employment catering to demands of clients. So for a heavily unionized institution it’s a blessing – you move your IT services outside and your “IT Crowd” is no longer a unionized headache but rather “workforce on-demand”. That workforce doesn’t have to reside in the same country either, opening up brand new frontiers of exploration (or exploitation?).

Here’s the thing – one has to answer simple questions to realize the depth of it. “What drives organization?” – “Maximizing profit”. “What drives employees of organization?” – “Making sure organization profit margins are high, so that their jobs are secure”. Now, in the relationship “Could provider” – “Cloud client” both are driven by above principles. However their goals are orthogonal. So what is the difference between organization’s own employee and “cloud” employees? – The motivation that drives them. In case of “own employee” – his interest is for his organization to prosper or at least not to go under. In case of “cloud employee” at best his interest is to serve his employer which is orthogonal to goals of “cloud client” – he needs to maximize profit of “cloud provider” by minimizing impact “cloud client” has on provider’s resources which in turn means – spending less cycles serving the client. This entire equation is then translated into Contracts, SLA’s and Change Requests which all are then monetized at the expense of the client. Will cloud employee be interested to offer money-saving scheme to client organization, if it doesn’t maximize profit of his employer? Will client’s employee be inclined to do the same?

To be fair – it is reasonable to accept Cloud limitations and impact in organizations that didn’t have IT to begin with and are too small to own their own IT shop. However it is very hard to come up with justification for organization to drop it’s IT department and “move to the cloud” remaining at mercy of provider and contract lawyers. So while it is not in organization’s best interest to part with it’s IT for million reasons, it does make sense for the executives to move in that direction, especially if their IT department is unionized. Move to the cloud removes all the barriers and part of their job that has to do with people. It’s hard to tell person “shut up and do it” but it’s much easier with vendor, especially when vendor is de-personified and is located across the ocean…

Cloud is truly unifying and transcending entity. It’s a Borg. “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile”.

P.S.

Quotes above come from “No Logo 10th anniversary edition”.

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