How AI and smart automation will affect your job

Automation, especially when coupled with artificial intelligence, is already driving productivity and personalization in the workplace — and fear. Two industry experts explain what this could mean for IT pros, from human/machine hybrid IT to the return of the generalist.

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The automated revolution is underway.

Although IDC titled its recent report The Future of Work, more than one-third (34 per cent) of organizations it surveyed for the global study are already using automation technology in their workplace right now.

That automation, especially when coupled with artificial intelligence, is already driving several things within enterprise organizations: productivity, accuracy, personalization, cost efficiency — and fear. Namely, fear of how smart automation will affect human jobs.

Roberta Bigliani addressed that fear when she presented highlights of IDC’s report at a recent Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) event in Toronto. When her session ended, Ashok Krish, global head of digital workplace at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), shared his own research findings.

Here’s their take on how intelligent automation will transform the enterprise workplace, and what that could mean for IT pros in particular.

Human/machine hybrid IT

By 2024, 20 per cent of workers involved in knowledge-intensive tasks will have AI-infused “coworkers” such as smart software or other digital, connected tech, according to Bigliani, VP of IDC Insights and co-author of the report.

This likely means IT pros will have to acquire new skills and expertise in human/smart machine collaboration, which is still a pretty nascent area.

The borderless workspace

IDC predicts that by 2021, 60 per cent of G2000 companies will adopt a workspace concept that defies physical boundaries: collaborative, flexible and fluid.

Enabled by smart automation, this workspace-as-a-service model will transform IT as well. By focusing on service delivery rather than physical location, this model will allow IT departments to shift skills to more strategic projects instead of focusing only on IT needs within their own local branch office, Bigliani said.

Gig economy platforms

To keep up with rapidly changing technologies, employers will put more emphasis on skills instead of full-time jobs. This trend will fuel gig economy platforms and talent marketplaces where workers can offer up their digital skills and services.

IDC forecasts 40 per cent of workers will use such platforms to market themselves to employers by 2023. Employers — including IT managers — will tap into these platforms to seek certain skill sets for specific projects or seasonal requirements.

Return of the generalist

Almost 20 years ago, people went out to get college degrees in the burgeoning field of website design. Within a decade, online design templates, apps and APIs rendered most website design skills obsolete. AI and automation will undoubtedly do the same to some of the tech-based skills (and IT jobs) that exist right now.

To avoid investing resources in workers whose skills could quickly become obsolete, employers are moving away from hiring specialists and seeking out (wait for it …) generalists. Instead of one-trick ponies, the ideal workers will be “digital ninjas” armed with multi-disciplinary knowledge who are able to “slice” their skills into many tranches — including tech, business and operations — rather than just one box, Krish said.

Is this the complete opposite of the past decade, when IT pros were urged to dive deep into one area and become specialists or risk being unhireable? Yes.

Krish said waning demand for IT specialists could also result in employers hiring non-tech workers for IT roles. As an example, he suggested a lawyer with machine learning skills could land an IT job at a law firm over an IT pro who has no legal background.

DevOps skills development

As focus shifts from specialists to multi-disciplinary generalists, core technical skills will be trumped in some cases by soft skills like communication, collaboration, adaptability, trainability and willingness to constantly learn new things. Krish likens this agile strategy for talent development to the DevOps model of software development.

“It’s taking [DevOps] out of IT and turning it into an enterprise-wide culture for the workplace,” he said. If you’re an IT pro, that means a continuous push to “widen my skills outside of my core specialization.”

Thankfully, Krish wants employers to bear some responsibility for this, too, by providing workers with “continuous, personalized and individualized” tools to help them acquire new skill sets.

Okay, let’s recap what IT pros will have to do to flourish in the new AI- and automation-enabled workplace:

Acquire new skills in human/machine collaboration. Adjust to the gig economy. Rethink specialization to broaden their skill sets. Take (even more) charge of constantly retraining and reinventing themselves. And, somehow, do all of that while still fulfilling the demands of their current IT roles.

Looks like IT pros still have their work cut out for them in the era of intelligent automation.

Image: mikkelwilliam/iStock

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