The move away from software to software-as-a-service (SAAS) may change the role of the IT professional but it won't cost them their job, according to executives at a Microsoft Town Hall meeting yesterday.

"There's an evolution of the IT role as a profession in the world of software as a service," said Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft.

Moving toward SAAS won't mean the widespread loss of IT jobs because the move will require new expertise. Providing SAAS doesn't just require moving software as it exists out into the "cloud," he said. "It's about re-engineering and a new level of computation," Ballmer said.

Existing skills that IT professionals have will still be in demand. The need for security and policy compliance, for example, won't disappear just because a company puts a service out on a data centre, he said.

The environment was similar a few years ago when IT professionals feared that all their jobs would be offshored, said Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft's server and tools business. "Now, the number one challenge for CIOs is finding talent with experience. It's just not accurate that it's all going offshore," he said.

Instead of eliminating IT workers, companies are more likely to ask their IT workers to acquire new skills that will allow them to focus on business processes that have more value to the business. "The job of the IT pro will change. It will be more aligned with the business than with the buttons," said Dan Holme, a Windows and Office technologies consultant with Intelliem.

"Rather than worrying about the uptime of particular services, the CIO will be talking to marketing executives about how IT can help you connect better with customers," said Holme. "It's about, 'What's the business value you can provide?' rather than the plumbing."