Amid all the tension that surrounds IT automation these days, it could very well turn out that by the end of the decade, 2017 will seem like the calm before the storm.
While many leading organizations are already touting their use of automation in complex data environments, it’s fair to say that the rollout of next-gen systems characterized by machine learning and artificial intelligence has so far been relegated to largely non-essential workloads on the fringe of normal business operations.
But that could change in 2018, says software developer ServiceNow, which recently launched the Intelligent Automation Engine aimed at simplifying customer relations, workforce management and other business processes. According to a recent survey of corporate leaders, nearly half are expecting to implement automation more fully next year as a means to cope with rising workloads, and upwards of 90 percent feel under the gun to have a robust automation stack in place by 2020 or risk obsolescence in an increasingly data-driven economy. What’s more, companies with 20 percent or more of revenue growth say they have implemented some form of automation in 60 percent of their processes, while those with flat or negative growth are only 35 percent automated.
Indeed, many business leaders believe that organizations that do not embrace automation to a significant degree will not survive the digital transformation that is currently remaking business processes and revenue models. According to a recent survey by BMC, nearly three quarters of respondents say companies that fail to execute IT automation over the next five years will not be around in 10. Without automation, companies will be unable to cope with the demands of distributed, multi-cloud infrastructure and the disparate data flows and accelerated application performance needed to support rapidly evolving digital services.
Vendor-driven surveys should always be taken with a grain of salt, of course, but elsewhere in the IT stack it seems that intelligent automation is emerging as a core capability of many platforms, which means the enterprise will become automated simply as a matter of course before long. Red Hat, for instance, was talking less about Linux and more about its Ansible automation system at its recent summit, says Windows IT Pro’s Christine Hall. Automation has long been part of the company’s strategy for helping the enterprise cope with multiple open source platforms, but the challenges are about to multiply with the advent of containers and microservices, which are expected to function largely autonomously in the coming years. As an agentless solution, Ansible has the propensity to implement intelligent automation capabilities wherever IT resources migrate.
Another recent development that could have profound implications for IT automation is Automation Anywhere’s release of the IQBot, a piece of software that can be quickly deployed in legacy IT environments to learn and eventually mimic key functions within ongoing business processes. The system is part of AA’s Digital Workforce platform consisting of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools, cognitive computing and advanced analytics to apply human-like logic to data workflows so they can be completed faster and with greater accuracy. The company says it can automate up to 80 percent of current business functions using cognitive learning techniques that allow the system to become more effective as it interacts with both humans and data systems. As well, it can communicate across multiple spoken languages to improve data coordination across geographically distributed environments.
Automation will undoubtedly be a controversial topic even after today’s generation of intelligent systems has entered the mainstream. But two salient facts are just as solid today as when the first machines were deployed on the factory floor more than 300 years ago: Businesses that deploy automation merely as a means to reduce payrolls are not leveraging it to its greatest advantage, and workers who fail to adapt their skillsets to accommodate increasing levels of automation will suffer its consequences to the highest degree.
The fact that automation is now encroaching upon white-collar processes in the front office rather than manual tasks on the assembly line is merely a testament to the innovation that has driven the tech industry over the years. And that innovation should kick into even higher gear once humans are no longer saddled with the drudgery of managing the data ecosystem.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.