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August 10, 2017

The Four Headwinds Facing IT

There are four headwinds facing IT today—four opposing forces that can impede, or even reverse, success for enterprise IT. These four headwinds are (1) the intensifying pressure to do more with less, (2) the increasing difficulty for IT to quantify their value to the enterprise, (3) the out-of-control sprawl of apps and projects, and (4) the borderline anarchy of cloud chaos.

Despite these headwinds, I argue that it’s an exciting time—perhaps even the best time—to be in IT. And, as has often been the case, we in IT are creating the very solutions for each of these challenges.

Do More with Less

This is not a new pressure for IT. “Do more with less” has been a constant mandate and mantra in our world from the beginning. However, what’s new is that the pressure on IT is intensifying. Why?

Ironically, as technology advances at increasingly exponential rates, it tends to ratchet up the pressure on IT teams rather than alleviate it. Higher expectations from the C-Suite, budgets stretched thin to keep up with tech innovation, and staggering project backlogs all factor into this intensification.

Knowledge Management

One mitigating factor against this buildup of pressure is knowledge management. In fact, there is seemingly a new career build on the foundation of knowledge management: knowledge engineer.

Knowledge engineer, however, is not a new career. It’s simply a new title for an existing skill set. In the evolution of IT, we have performed knowledge engineering through IVR, decision trees, troubleshooting trees, and knowledge base articles. All those skills translate into the world of conversation trees or conversation design for AI and virtual agents embedded in a service management environment.

This evolution is not only good for IT, it’s necessary. Virtual agents, AI, and machine learning boost our capacity to do more. We’ve put so many IT tasks on humans for so long simply because the technology didn’t exist to do it any other way. That technology is here now, and it can take some of that burden away.

What does this new world look like, and why should we be excited about it? We can now use machine learning and AI on relatively simple-looking processes that are painful, cumbersome, and horrible. Processes like categorization, prioritization, and assignment. When we let the machines take over these labor-intensive, resource-draining, unavoidable processes, it reduces some of the tremendous pressure on IT.

But What If the Machines Eliminate IT Jobs?

It is, perhaps, an understatement to say that within the world of IT there exists an ample amount of mistrust about AI and machine learning.

“Will IT need to re-skill? Are we going to lose jobs to AI, machine learning, and bots?" I hear these questions all over the IT world. On the surface, I can see why IT might be wary of the AI trend. The fear is that some of this technology is going to take away jobs now and eventually take more away in the future as its capabilities expand.

Let me be clear on this point. AI, machine learning, and bots won’t cost you your jobs. Why?

First, they’ll help you get more done—with less. IT faces a huge backlog of projects and growing demands on their time. With AI taking over, that will simply clear more time and space for IT to attack the hydra-like project list.

Second, as I mentioned before, you already have the core skills to thrive in a world of AI. If you can build a decision tree you can do conversation design. We don't have to totally reskill because we possess the skills—even though the industry is calling them new things like knowledge engineering and conversation design.

Delay Is the True Enemy

We've done this before in IT—adapted to new technologies that at first seem as though they’ll threaten who we are and what we do. As always, we embrace it, lean into it, figure it out, and get going. In our hands, new technology expands the horizons of IT instead of contracting them.

The only danger we face is waiting to implement what’s new because it’s unfamiliar or threatening. That's when things can be problematic, because when we fail to evolve alongside the technology, we run the risk of being naturally selected out of the enterprise IT world. But as we enhance our capacity to do more with less, we will thrive, despite this headwind.

Coming next: Headwind #2: Increasing Difficulty Quantifying IT’s Value to the Enterprise

Edited by Erik Linask

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