Research Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, the fourth industrial revolution – we’re hearing a lot about how technology is going to automate everything and render whole cohorts of fleshy, fallible and inefficient humans surplus to needs.
Some commentators highlight IT professionals as a vulnerable group here, especially those working in operations roles. With the march of cloud services and software automation, surely pink slips for sysadmins are inevitable?
You could dismiss all of this as hype, or start running around in panic wondering how you are going to pay the mortgage and feed the kids/dog/cat/goldfish/other (delete as appropriate). Feedback from readers in a recent Reg survey, however, suggests that a more balanced, pragmatic, and indeed more positive reaction is appropriate. These reader comments reflect the spirit that came through pretty consistently:
“Automation takes the drudge out of everyone's life and allows IT to better align with the business and become an enabler.”
“We have an opportunity to redeploy resources for higher level value add.”
“Automation frees your time from grunt work, so use it to improve systems or develop new features, or to learn new skills for your next job.”
So, does this mean you can relax, sit back and wait to be offered an opportunity to ditch the drudgery and start working on more interesting and fulfilling activities?
Well you could, but that would be a very risky way of playing things. As another reader pointed out, we’ve seen similar developments, and heard the same kinds of warnings many times before, and there has historically been real change and impact, along with some unfortunate victims:
“I've been working on systems automation since the 1980s. It has eliminated roles and created others. And yes there is pain during transition, especially for people who cannot or will not change their skills or ways of doing things.”
As part of the research, we asked for opinions on how one particular technology – hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) – impacts traditional operations roles and activities. It’s not the only type of offering that aims to simplify and automate the IT environment, but it’s now convincingly entering the mainstream so provides a good proxy for the impact of automation more broadly.
The responses we got back were very telling, with the majority indicating a significant impact on server, storage and networking admin. Other areas such as application delivery and quality of service management were also called out as being affected. The point is that if your job is implementing, maintaining and managing infrastructure, you are likely to see less demand for your existing skills over time, and more demand for new ones.
As the above commentator pointed out, this may not be news per se, but whether it’s HCI or other forms of automation and outsourcing options, the developments and shifts seem to be taking place more quickly than ever. As a simple example, this came through strongly in relation to HCI.
Already a third of respondents were indicating adoption, with another third having HCI on their agenda. In other studies, we have picked up similarly fast-moving trends around automated provisioning tools, real-time monitoring and alerting capabilities, auto-response security systems, and so on. Even if it begins with operator assistance rather than full hands-off automation, a lot of this technology really does deal with many of the tasks that previously required operator time and effort.
With that in mind, we’ll leave you with our favourite piece of advice received during the survey for anyone who feels they can sit on their laurels:
“Cowboy Up! In this day and age we need to continually update our skills.”
There’s lots more on this topic provided in our research note, including a breakdown of where and how automation is likely to impact traditional IT operations roles. Some thoughts for both IT practitioners and managers on what to do about it are also given.
You can get your copy of the research note here.