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The incredible shrinking IT staff?

Gartner predicts that by 2010, the number of IT staff in the profession will fall by 15 percent.

Under pressure from ever-more capable outsourcers, information technology departments are poised for serious staff reductions over the next several years, according to a new report from research firm Gartner.

By 2010, the number of IT staff in the profession will shrink by 15 percent, Gartner predicted Tuesday. Apart from the rise of outsourcers--who often provide their services from lower-cost countries like India--IT departments also face the diffusion of tech skills throughout an organization, Gartner said.

"As IT becomes a more integral part of every business function, there will be increasing numbers of people outside the (information systems organization) whose work involves IT," Gartner said in the report, "and as IT skills become a more important component of business professionalism, in-house IS staff will be displaced."

The report adds to somewhat confusing signals about the future of the IT profession. The U.S. Department of Labor forecasts that computer software engineering and network systems and data communications analysis will be among the top 10 fastest-growing occupations between 2002 and 2012. And last fall, a Gartner analyst predicted a shortage of technology professionals in the United States in the near future, thanks to factors such as declining student interest in the tech field.

But a study in 2004 from research organization Rand did not find evidence that shortages of scientific, technical, engineering and mathematics personnel in the U.S. work force are on the horizon. And a separate Gartner analyst last year predicted that over the next 20 years, changes in computing technology will erase the need for much of the work that employs IT staff today.

In addition, the growing trend of shipping IT work offshore seems likely to in the form of fewer U.S. jobs created, at least in the short run. A report last year sponsored by the Information Technology Association of America trade group on offshore outsourcing of software and IT services indicated that sacrifices by American IT workers would result in an improved U.S. economy overall.

In its latest report, Gartner forecasts increased involvement by IT staffers in business matters. By 2010, the firm said, 60 percent of the people affiliated with the information systems group will assume "business-facing roles around information, process and relationships." As a result, Gartner predicted, "the size of the IS organization will decrease, 2010, IT departments in midsize and large companies will be at least one-third smaller than they were in 2000."

"As we see departments within businesses taking on the traditional functions of IT, so IS professionals and leaders will have to choose between careers as technologists, technical managers and business professionals," David Flint, research vice president at Gartner, said in a statement.