As the digital age exits its infancy and enters full-scale saturation of business and personal environments, more and more workforces are experiencing the benefits of IT automation in dedicated IT departments or companies.
Others, however, remain suspicious that IT automation can help them. They wonder if this step might not create more harm than good, especially when it comes to accuracy or job security. “If we automate everything’, the thinking goes, ‘then what will be left for us to do? Plus, can we really trust software in place of human oversight? What happens if something goes wrong and only the robots are in charge?”
These fears are natural and bound to arise in any situation where automated programs are replacing human activity. However, the futuristic fear mongering that paints unrealistic “War of the World” like scenarios aside, there are a lot of misconceptions about the nature of automation and its results.
Truthfully, there are a lot of other areas within your organization that are automatized to a much higher level, and although IT often seems to lag behind, that is about to change: More than half of larger organizations already have invested in some form of IT automation solution, and 22% will within the next 12 months.
McKinsey estimates that, depending on the speed of adoption, the industry and the country, between almost 0 and 30% of the hours worked globally could be automated by 2030. Even if you use a median of this scenario, you could safely say that about 15% of the current activities can be automated.
So, yes, IT automation will be automating some of your workload very soon. But that doesn’t mean that the demand for IT professionals is on the decline. The opposite is true. A number of compelling studies illustrate that automation in the realm of information technology may actually increase job satisfaction and departmental effectiveness significantly, as well as increase the bottom line of the company overall because your team is now able to focus on higher-value jobs, e.g., tackling the more complex IT tickets that could not be resolved with self-help or chat bots.
Let’s take a look at the real results of automating information technology, and what it will mean for your department and company.
Any realistic look at the use of automation must factor in the changing face of the IT department as it stands today.
Traditionally, management always viewed IT as a necessary cost for keeping business operations running smoothly. They were a siloed department that was to be run as cost-effectively as possible. This mindset, however, created the equivalent of a drag chute attached to every business as massive legacy business applications are aging and require increasing maintenance. Modernizing these means huge potential risks, costs, and resources. So most companies choose to drag these along as long as possible, patching and fixing as they go.
Fear of change kept (and keeps) companies from updating systems, but it also kept IT professionals stuck in an old skill model that isn’t going to suffice now or in the future. Ready, or not — automation is coming and it will affect skill sets across your entire IT team.
Generally, automation will have a more significant impact on tasks that are labor-intensive, repetitive, and require data input, but won’t yet impact jobs that “involve managing people, applying expertise, and social interactions, where machines are unable to match human performance for now.” (McKinsey)
But it is not only certain job roles that are affected. Gartner predicts that “by 2021, 40% of IT staff will be versatilists holding multiple roles, most of which will be business-related rather than technology-related.” In a different Gartner survey, “80% of the CIOs and IT leaders asked predict that the currently needed skills and knowledge will have very little resemblance to what organizations will need ten years from now. Therefore, having decade-old technical skills isn’t enough to be irreplaceable or even relevant in IT anymore.”
In simplified terms, the skills IT professionals currently have aren’t going to cut it, which creates a massive skill gap in companies. IT workers need more and more advanced skills, but don’t have time to learn them while nursemaiding legacy apps. Thus they have to make room for automation so that automation can in turn make room for their critical skill development.
So let’s do a brief thought experiment. What actually happens when IT automation “eliminates” job duties? As discussed above, the knee-jerk, fear-based reaction is to assume that someone is going to be out of a job. But is that true? Probably not.
Take the example of support tickets, of which your typical end user will require 26 per year or a ticket every two weeks on average! If we assume that half of those requests are low-complexity queries that could be answered by standard questions and targeting protocols, the number would drop to 13 per year – at least, as experienced by human workers.
Automated systems that can point users in the direction of an easy answer, e.g., restart your Outlook, will free up customer service members or IT staff to focus on higher complexity tickets that don’t get enough attention and are often answered incorrectly or dismissed. This will engage their higher order thinking and engender greater job satisfaction.
This in turn is important, as studies show that employee engagement directly correlates with positive outcomes for the business unit and company as a whole “at a magnitude that is important to many organizations and that these correlations generalize across companies.”
As staff is freed up to use their brains more, they enjoy their work more and perceive themselves as making greater contributions to the company. As they feel more valued, they do better work. That means higher productivity, faster ticket resolution of both low- and high-complexity tickets and enhanced customer (as well as employee) satisfaction.
The truth is that many of the tasks an IT team does on a daily basis can easily be automated. However, as more and more businesses are moving towards Business-as-Usual to accommodate faster upgrade schedules, IT automation can facilitate better and more accurate management than a purely body-based model.
While human attention to such initiatives will always be a necessity – the need for oversight never goes away – team leaders can now task their members with the high-value tasks that fuel their need for creativity, autonomy and challenge.
So, the bottom line? Automation doesn’t reduce the demand for jobs per se; far from it. It makes them more interesting, reduces stress on harried IT professionals, and increases the productivity of an organization as a whole.