Automation and the Future of IT
By Embracing Automation, IT Finds a New Path Forward
The invention of technologies that helps the in-the-ditches IT worker tackle the issues of increased complexity has been a key theme of my career for over 25 years. Throughout this journey, I’ve worked with scores of incredibly smart, industrious, and passionate people tasked with solving some of the biggest problems for many of the world’s largest and most successful companies.
And yet, despite their oft-times heroic efforts, many of these same people would tell me that they felt chronically underappreciated by upper management. And it wasn’t just the operators in the NOC that felt this way. Many senior IT leaders shared that their bosses viewed them as the shepherds of cost centers tasked with “keeping the lights on.”
With the rise of automation, including through the application of artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps), we’re seeing a considerable shift in the culture of IT and its perception of the department throughout the wider business. No longer are these guys and girls tied to their desks, plugging away at repetitive tasks, like sorting through help tickets or trying to make sense of a deluge of duplicate, context-less, or otherwise meaningless alerts.
Rather, these operators are working on innovative projects that truly help move their companies forward. This is just as true for senior IT leaders. CIOs, CTOs, and CXOs who were once spending their precious resource in war rooms are spending time in the boardroom, where service availability and uptime are becoming a reported metric alongside revenue and customer churn rates.
If you haven’t seen these changes yet in your company, you will soon. Gartner predicts that “by 2020, approximately 50 percent of enterprises will actively use AIOps technologies together with APM to provide insight into both business execution and IT operations, up from fewer than 10 percent today.”
Here’s how I see the IT department of tomorrow benefitting from automation.
I believe that automation with give birth to a new breed of IT worker: a generation not just efficient but innovative, capable of developing their career faster and driving the changes necessary to be indispensable to their bosses and upper management.Tweet This
Productivity Is Where It Truly Matters
I believe that automation in IT is all about supplementing – not eliminating – human talent. Done smartly, IT workers are freed up from mundane tasks so they can focus on solving the most pressing, customer-impacting issues and viewing those tasks through a strategic lens.
While automation should eliminate menial and repetitive tasks, the future-state scaremongering from the likes of Elon Musk strikes me as needlessly sensational and highly unlikely. Human beings are and will still be the driving force behind IT. And I’m not alone. In a recent survey on the future of work, PwC found that 73 percent of workers believe that technology can never replace the human mind.
IT Gets the Respect It Deserves
In a Harvard Business Review survey of 10,000 executives, 97 percent of them said that being strategic was the leadership behavior most important to their organization’s success.
Unfortunately, many of today’s IT workers spend their days looking at dashboards or processing individual alerts and tickets, which is the definition of being reactive. That all changes when we have automation working in the background to free up workers to create new ways to improve their products and services, rather than constantly putting out fires.
Recently, we invited Jill Lehman, Vice President of Corporate Services & Chief People Officer at Ontario Systems, and Andy Brown, CEO and Founder of Sand Hill East (and a Moogsoft investor), to share their insights on this very topic as part of our “Heard from the Herd” podcast. Jill shared with us that, “Learning agility is what happens when you accept automation or the different technologies that help you do work, which means that once a task is automated, people have the opportunity to pivot to a new type of thinking or work that expands upon and innovates from their foundational knowledge.”
“Those [with learning agility] are the mentors. These are the people that are going to get the first opportunities for the next job promotion or the next great project assignment,” she concluded.
Andy shared this bit of wisdom: “There are definitely common traits that I find in the most successful people. For example, you may have heard the phrase ‘listening is at the heart of being innovative,’ but to that, I would also add: if you know everything, you can’t learn anything. I truly believe that listening is important and a skill to develop. Listen to the client, investors, and advisors. Take what you hear and learn to apply it.”
Therein lies a significant difference between humans and machines: machines do exactly as instructed, whereas human beings have the ability to listen, think critically, and apply their learnings at a rate beyond even the most advanced machine-learning algorithms. The question is, when will companies invest in the kind of skill development made possible through the application of automation so as to unlock the full potential of their workers?
Balancing Work and Life
The truth is that most people in IT are overworked. They spend their nights, weekends, and holidays plugged in, checking their phones, and sending emails even as they’re crawling into bed. While many take great pride in working hard, most will concede that there is a not-so-fine line between career-driven and racing towards burnout.
One of those most obvious benefits of automation is that it ensures that IT workers can scale and handle simple tasks without dedicating their time and attention. Done right, automation allows them to actually leave the office at a reasonable hour and afford them time to focus on stuff that matters outside of the workplace without impacting the quality of the services they oversee.
I believe that the future of IT is one where individuals have much more freedom and a better balance between work and life. FlexJobs found that 63 percent of executives overseeing “people policy” say the eight-hour workday will become obsolete in the future as the amount of time spent working continues to decrease. Companies that pair a “people-first” culture and the rise of automation to improve productivity will reap the benefits of attracting and retaining top talent and thus sharpening their competitive edge.
In fact, don’t be surprised if highly skilled job candidates base their decisions on whether the company has invested in the kind of automation that allows them to work smarter, not longer.
The Opportunity for Evolution
It’s understandable why some may fear technological advancement in general and automation in particular – there’s certainly plenty of invective rhetoric circulating online that promises human redundancy and doomsday scenarios.
I, however, like to take a more optimistic view and think of the future as a bastion of opportunity. While undoubtedly our work will transform, there are no real signs that human workers will be displaced as a result. For example, Gartner claims that emergent technology like AI will create 2.3 million jobs by 2020, which means that a whole new world awaits and is awash in the promise of industry.
I believe that automation with give birth to a new breed of IT worker: a generation not just efficient but innovative, capable of developing their career faster and driving the changes necessary to be indispensable to their bosses and upper management.
I’m here to push for that change. If we look at the Industrial Revolution as an example, there’s no reason not to expect step-function gains in personal health, wealth, and prosperity. With automation, a bountiful future awaits us. All it takes is automating away some of that thankless busywork.