It’s fascinating to see artificial intelligence and automation morph from a ‘looming threat to millions of jobs’ into a ‘partial panacea for the global IT skills shortage.’
Just a few years ago, AI and automation were projected to potentially eliminate 800 million jobs by 2030. In 2015 the BBC actually set up an online tool, based on data from Oxford University, where you could type in your current job to find out its likelihood of being eliminated by a robot. (Thankfully, the BBC tool assures me there’s only an eight per cent chance of robots replacing journalists, so that’s a relief.)
If you’re in an industry, however, that can’t find enough skilled humans to fill vacant positions in the first place, AI and automation can be viewed as ways to ease the problem. If that industry is IT, the talent shortage is so huge it almost seems insurmountable. Here’s how AI, automation and managed services might help harried IT teams who simply don’t have enough human hands on deck.
The gap widens
CIO’s 2020 State of the CIO survey provides the latest glimpse into HR’s ongoing battle against the skills shortage. Based on a poll of 679 IT managers and 250 line of business IT leaders, these are the five toughest IT roles to fill right now:
- cybersecurity (39 per cent of employers expect difficulty in filling these roles)
- data science/analytics (35 per cent)
- AI, ML and RPA (31 per cent)
- cloud services/integration (18 per cent)
- legacy technologies (18 per cent)
How hard is it to hire tech talent these days? Citrix CIO Meerah Rajavel told CIO her company is considering calling upon what she calls “the home force.” That means finding people who have left IT for various reasons (to enter retirement, raise kids or care for elderly parents) and enticing them back to the industry on a part-time or work-from-home basis—even, as Rajavel says, “a few hours a week.”
The dearth of talent is particularly worrisome in cybersecurity. ISC2, the association of 140,000 security professionals overseeing the CISSP certification, estimates the global supply of infosec talent would have to increase by 4.07 million workers (or 145 per cent) to cover the shortfall.
Concluding they might never find enough skilled IT pros to employ, firms are looking specifically at technologies they can deploy to ease their staffing pain.
This isn’t an entirely new concept, of course, since managed services have been around for a few decades. In 2020, organizations are boosting their managed services spending, and it may be partly due to the talent shortfall.
According to this year’s Spiceworks State of IT report, spending on managed IT help desk solutions will rise from six per cent of managed service budgets in 2019 to 10 per cent in 2020.
The Spiceworks poll doesn’t cite the skills gap as a specific driver of higher managed services spending—but 451 Research does. Forty-one per cent of organizations surveyed now have managed cloud backup and 57 per cent are moving toward hybrid IT comprised of both on-prem and cloud or hosted resources. Why?
“The research findings indicated that enterprises of all sizes will look to utilize managed and professional services to fill gaps in their technology expertise and personnel,” 451 noted in its findings. “Public cloud platform expertise remains an acute IT skills gap…(that) is also driving organizations toward managed services providers and professional services firms.”
AI and automation
Two of the newer tech-based weapons in the battle against the skills shortage are AI and automation. Many network functions can be automated these days, including routing, load balancing, encryption, monitoring and alerts, with some network resources automatically scaled up or down as needed.
Wyebot is just one of several startups harnessing AI and automation to keep networks safe and make them work as efficiently as possible.
As described in Network World, Wyebot uses AI and multi-radio sensors to remotely analyze Wi-Fi network behaviours and spot trouble or anomalies. Its automated resolution process repairs Wi-Fi networks remotely with AI software—so human engineers don’t have to.
The cybersecurity use case
Again, cybersecurity is an area where AI and automation are being deployed together specifically to combat the IT talent shortage. When 1,125 CISOs in the U.S. and Europe were surveyed a year ago, 68 per cent said they believe the automation of routine tasks helps ease the cybersecurity skills shortage, and 59 per cent said AI has the most potential to address the infosec skills gap.
Many elements of AI and automation are combined within a particular approach to cybersecurity that Gartner has christened SOAR. The acronym stands for security orchestration, automation and response, and it’s comprised of various tools rather than a plug-and-play solution.
There’s more detail on SOAR here, but it enables automated responses to security incidents or conditions, from generating an IT help desk ticket to changing a firewall rule when a specific IP address pops up.
In a research note on the nascent SOAR vendor landscape, Gartner analysts write that, “due to staff shortages in security operations, clients describe a growing need to automate repeatable tasks, streamline workflows and orchestrate security tasks resulting in operations scale.”
It’s all very promising stuff to cope with a desperate shortage of talent that’s only getting worse. If any IT pros are nervous about AI and automation replacing their jobs, however, take solace in another nugget from the Gartner report: “If you have a (cybersec) team, SOAR can give them more reach—but this is not a tool to get instead of a team.”