Words like “automation” and “artificial intelligence” in the workplace can make IT professionals wonder whether their jobs are on the line. In fact, 37% of workers are worried that automation may put their jobs at risk, up from 33% in 2014, according to a 2017 survey by PwC.
Their fears aren’t entirely unfounded, as IT workers already are seeing automation in their daily lives, from testing new software code to identifying anomalies in networks.
What’s more, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated adoption of AI and automation even further. By 2022, research from Gartner says, 90% of large organizations will have adopted some form of robotic process automation (RPA), which uses scripts to automate repeatable business and IT processes like data entry and account reconciliation.
And yet, IT jobs aren’t going away. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for instance, cites information security analyst as one of the nation’s fastest-growing occupations, with a projected growth rate of 31% by 2029. Computer network architects, computer support specialists, computer systems analysts, database administrators and software developers also will see faster-than-average growth.
So while it might be true that AI will replace IT jobs in some instances, many experts believe it’s just as likely that AI will create as many jobs as it displaces – and in many case, perhaps even better jobs.
How Automation Will Affect IT Jobs
That employees wonder how automation will affect IT jobs is no surprise, especially now, with AI and automation already taking over many duties in IT organizations. For example, employees no longer have to manually test every new line of code in an enterprise resource planning upgrade; instead, they can run specialized software and scripts to simulate frequently-run functions and identify potential issues before they bring the upgrade online.
Meanwhile, AI algorithms in the information security world routinely detect network anomalies that could lead to data breaches or other malfeasance.
“AI and automation could change almost every task,” said Pablo Listingart, founder of ComIT, a charitable organization that provides free training and professional development opportunities in information technology.
For the most part, however, the tasks that AI and automation are subsuming are routine, repetitive and tedious: running reports, checking code for common errors, detecting problems. Machines often can do such tasks faster and with more precision than humans can. Take industries like manufacturing and logistics, Listingart said. In factories, warehouses and fulfillment centers, AI can increase transparency, detect bottlenecks and streamline workflows.
For IT employees, what looks like a threat might actually be an opportunity. On the one hand, almost any repetitive, data-heavy task can be automated, according to Listingart. But automating jobs doesn’t have to mean eliminating employees. In many cases, it means freeing them up to focus on the duties and decisions that machines can’t handle, creating teams wherein humans and computers work together in tandem.
Consider customer service, for example. In customer service, automated chatbots reduce the workload of customer service professionals by handling routine customer inquiries about administrative items like account balances and order statuses. As a result, Linstingart pointed out, customer service professionals have the bandwidth to focus on solving more complex customer problems.
Robot Workers, Human Managers
The new jobs that AI and automation will create for IT workers won’t just be more interesting or complex. In many cases, they might also be more senior.
That’s because companies that implement AI solutions will need skilled and knowledgeable professionals to manage and monitor them.
“IT professionals will be supporting the integration of AI until the moment AI can evolve to create, develop and self-maintain their own models,” Listingart said. “Autonomous systems can’t currently exist without the planning, development, integration and maintenance of informed IT professionals.”
Indeed, AI can enable automation, but IT professionals still need to program and, in some cases, “train” the systems to process data and handle tasks. IT professionals will also be needed to successfully find, vet and integrate AI systems in the first place, and to ensure that their companies are investing in the technology that’s needed—including cloud computing, for example—to scale and run them, Listingart said.
“[AI] only works well when all systems are connected, and when the data is readily available in the correct format,” said Dmitry Askenov, co-founder and CEO of Truligent, a holding company that specializes in software startups.
“Once automation is set up, IT teams will need to continuously monitor the performance and integrate novel methodologies and data models.”
Automation and AI won’t make IT professionals irrelevant, but rather will help them increase their value to IT employers, Listingart said.
“With automated tools and scripts, IT professionals can take on a more creative, overseeing role,” he said. “They can make sure the process is working correctly and invest their efforts to other valuable, thought-intensive tasks, [thereby] maximizing their contribution to the team without letting any part of their role slip.”
As companies continue to embrace automation and AI in the months and years ahead, IT teams will be on the front lines to support and integrate new software into existing technology stacks. In the process, Listingart predicts, they’ll help their companies maximize revenue, which ultimately will create more jobs, not fewer.
“At scale, that’s nothing to be feared,” he said. “On the contrary, it might be exactly what we need as we face the task of a global recovery.”
Christine Parizo is a Houston-based freelance writer specializing in B2B technology, with two decades of experience as both a journalist and a content marketing writer.
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