What happens to technology professionals as artificially intelligent machines take over increasingly complex IT tasks?
Seven out of 10 corporate executives say they are making significantly more investments in artificial intelligence (AI) than just two years ago, according to Accenture’s recent Technology Vision survey. And more than half (55 percent) say they plan to use machine learning and embedded AI solutions extensively.
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But rapid advancement of AI and robotics in the workplace has many professionals on edge—no more so than in IT. As machines become more sophisticated and able to learn and make decisions, they are becoming an increasingly important aspect of the IT ecosystem. And that creates fear, uncertainty and doubt in the human workforce.
Chetan Dube, founder and CEO of AI systems maker IPSoft, has said that the IT infrastructure of the future will be managed not by people but by smart systems. Engineering “chores” will be automated and technologists will focus on creativity and innovation. However, the organization charged with delivering technology-enable change to the rest of the company is hardly enthusiastic about such transformation for itself. “While developments in artificial intelligence-fueled automation continue to advance, IT as a business function has been reluctant to change,” Dube says. “Instead of designing business operations around emerging technologies, IT is typically forced to work around infrastructure that already exists.”
CIO.com talked to Dube about the immediate impact of increased automation on IT professionals, mitigating disruption using top-down leadership, the obligations of companies and governments have to retrain their labor forces for the future, and the changes we’ll all have to make as our work we do becomes fodder for the robots.
CIO.com: Are IT leaders considering how to manage the impact the individuals on their teams as they incorporate more AI and robotics?
Chetan Dube, CEO, IPsoft: Because the hybrid AI workforce is already the direction that most industries are headed, IT leaders are definitely considering how to manage these changes and concerns directly related to their workforce. However, with many companies still operating on legacy platforms and outdated technologies, not every IT professional knows the best course of action.
Leadership can pave the way, but success will greatly depend on each individual’s willingness to adapt. Those who are willing to embrace change and work at updating their skillset to match the requirements of new roles will reap the rewards.
Within the IT function particularly, IT managers need to think about how they adapt to managing automated processes rather than organizing their functions around the more limited capacity of manual workers. This is massive shift in mindset, but it will lead to greater opportunity for more highly skilled and varied job roles.
CIO.com: When people ask where they fit into a machine-driven future, how do you reply?
Dube: To overcome resistance to change, our perceptions of artificial intelligence and automation must change from fear to acceptance. Instead of focusing on how machines can replace humans, we should create scenarios where people work alongside them. The [issue] is no longer ‘machine vs. human,’ but rather ‘machine and human.’
We need to remember that people’s skills will be evolving and not static. Each new technological development creates roles that were previously unheard of a decade before. For example, the Twitter and Facebook revolution has led to the creation of tens of thousands of social media experts and even entire agencies dedicated to a new business need.
This adaptation can help shift IT leaders from maintaining day-do-day operations to dedicating themselves to strategic change. An engineer, for example, develops new algorithms or systemic improvements that have the potential to completely transform a business and impact its productivity.
CIO.com: What are the most immediate challenges when introducing increased AI and automation?
Dube: The immediate challenge is properly aiding the shift in perception of an AI-driven workforce and reskilling your workforce to adapt to changes in roles and responsibilities. In order to do so, workers must be given the tools they need to succeed, and this starts with education. Educating the workforce about how automation can result in more enjoyable, strategic, and creative job roles, and how it will bring more productivity and increased revenues, must be a priority. This starts with CIOs and business leaders who can help mitigate the risk of transition. In order for the transition to be successful, it must be completely supported from the top-down within the organization.
While any kind of restructuring will inevitably be met with a degree of resistance, in the medium to longer term the new model has the potential to deliver far greater benefits to a company’s entire employee base.
CIO.com: Might there be some areas where automation is possible but the disruption would just be too great?
Dube: Business leaders must ask themselves a vital question: “What will happen if this change is not embraced?” [There may be] a domino effect. If a business fails to adapt, it is likely to die. If the business dies, then there will be no jobs to protect. Of course, that’s a worst-case scenario; however, it is plausible. Failing to embrace change and undertake automation can affect revenues and hinder competitiveness, which can both have a huge impact on an organization.
CIO.com: What sorts of new role do you see emerging as a result of increasingly advanced automation capabilities?
Dube: The introduction of AI will see the creation of new executives such as the Chief Data Intelligence Officer. These highly skilled workers will be able to filter and interpret the vast amounts of data stemming from automated procedures and transform it into valuable intelligence. The ability to see the bigger picture and spot trends and opportunities will become a key skill within IT, as it maximizes the varying abilities of both people and machines.
Data scientist roles didn’t exist (under that name, at least) 10 years ago. Demand for commercially savvy data analysts is already vastly outstripping supply, with companies including Microsoft and Google on massive hiring spree.
Another example is a demand for candidates within AI organizations who combine skills in mathematical logic with knowledge of the human mind in order to automate activities that can improve quality and speed of service across all industries. At its core, driving ROI and fostering innovation has been—and will continue to be—driven by people.
According to Accenture’s recent Technology Vision 2016 report, the qualifications for leading employees are changing. Only a few years prior, ‘deep expertise for the specialized task at hand’ was ranked as one of the most important hiring factors for IT and business executives. Today, this was only the fifth most important characteristic required for employees. [Today, skills such as] the ability to quickly learn, ability to multitask, and the willingness to embrace change [lead]. This strongly indicates that CEOs and CIOs are placing a premium on candidates whom they believe will evolve with their business and have the aptitude to learn quickly. This can only be achieved through proper education and training.
CIO.com: How can business leaders win the trust of their workforces amid this expansion of automation?
Dube: Building trust in an organization involves transparency in workforce changes and providing the right tools for both current and future employees to succeed. Leaders must prepare today as if tomorrow were already here. What jobs would exist? What would be the needs of corporations in a cognitive era? In order to build trust amongst employees, show them that the roles of the future are not to be replaced by AI.
For instance, rather than classic systems engineers, develop automation engineer roles today. By doing so, your engineers can be a part of galvanizing the transformation to a more efficient ecosystem. When your entire organization is embracing the change, it provides a smoother path to the future with less fear of the unknown.
CIO.com: What are forward thinking companies doing to ease uncertainty during this transition?
Dube: There are two core elements to effectively enabling changes: education and incentives. Successful leadership will involve educating the workforce about how automation and overhauling the exiting operational model can result in more enjoyable, strategic, and creative job roles, and how people and machines working together will bring more productivity and increased revenues.
Once the correct technology is in place, staff must be incentivized to assist in the smooth running of the transition. Incentives may come in many forms including financial rewards and the offer of additional training or better roles within the organization. This needs to be communicated from the highest level and filtered down throughout the workforce. Alongside incentives, workers must be given the tools to be able to succeed—be they financing, time, technology or management support.
CIO.com: What about the ethical considerations involved in creating policies to ensure that these changes have a positive impact on workers in the long term? What responsibilities do companies have to train their employees for different roles?
Dube: All stakeholders have a role to play. In addition to organizations investing in skills development, local and central government bodies need to look at the policies and incentives they can provide to accelerate reskilling. It’s also unquestionably the responsibility of all of us as individuals to adapt and seek out ways to take our own steps in learning more about the new skills we need to thrive—not just survive—in this new world. Labor flexibility to adapt will be a primary factor in the ability of entire economies to reorient themselves in order to prosper in this smart machine world. Galvanizing all stakeholders to collaborate positively is the only way forward.
CIO.com: What sorts of policies and processes will be more effective in helping professionals make this transition?
Dube: By hiring employees who have the aptitude to learn quickly, leaders can build a more adaptable workforce by providing these fast learners with the right tools to drive growth.
Although technology is what is driving this disruption, it is also at the center of creating the solutions to mitigate these risks. This includes massive online open courses (MOOCs) that are enterprise-focused and scalable. In addition, internal collaboration tools that foster group thinking and problem solving will also build a more effective workforce.
But this education must also go beyond the four walls of the office. There is a great opportunity for corporations to align their corporate social responsibility initiatives with STEM education [efforts] in order to integrate futuristic technologies into the education of our youth in order to better prepare them for the future. This includes exposing them to robotics and AI at a younger age and giving them opportunities to experiment with emerging technology. With AI already entering the workplace, we must prepare the next generation of the workforce to work seamlessly with these technologies as a partner, rather than seeing them as a threat.