When I worked at IBM, we learned the hard way that there are risks associated with pushing a product or a feature that eliminates jobs. We brought out a product that reduced staffing in related areas by 90% and wasn’t selling well. It turned out that the managers of these jobs reported having a vote on what was deployed, and then realized that if we eliminated most of their people, they’d become redundant. Their interests were counter to the company’s interests, but that didn’t seem to matter given that they were a critical part of the decision.
However, at least for the moment, we don’t have a shortage of jobs; we have a severe shortage of people, and technology is advancing rapidly — expanding the need faster than we spin up people to address it. To address this need this week, Dell provided a panel moderated by Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.On the panel with Mark were Patrick Duroseau, VP, Data Management, Under Armour; Michio Kaku, futurist and theoretical physicist; John Roese, CTO, Dell Technologies; Rose Schooler, VP GM Intel; and Susan Sharpe, Product Manager, CloudIQ, Dell Technologies.
The Hierarchy of Automation
Before the panel kicked off, Dell’s Roese, walked us through a hierarchy of automation levels based on the now mature hierarchy we use for autonomous vehicles. The level range is 0 to 5:
- 0 = no automation
- 1 = operated assisted
- 2 = partial automation
- 3 = conditional automation
- 4 = high autonomy
- 5 = full autonomous
For the most part, the industry currently is in the 0 to 3 range, depending on deployment, but we are a long way from the “IT-in-a-box” world that an entire level five deployment represents across IT.
At the current level of autonomy, between 0 to 3, the industry is supplementing rather than replacing staff. However, retraining and replacement staff will likely become necessary as we move to levels four and five. This is hardly a new problem in the tech market, which is advancing rapidly.
Dell’s Advanced Offerings
Roese and Sharpe highlighted the products that Dell has already advanced toward full automation. These offerings include VXRail, which can now provide six nines of availability, far more employee efficiency in deploying apps (2x the speed of alternatives), fewer manual steps, and an 85% faster deployment speed than prior technology. In addition, VXRail deployment, monitoring, and incident mitigation are all automated to reduce staffing load significantly.
APEX is Dell’s ITaaS (IT-as-a-Service) offering that was recently introduced. Its automation benefits include reduced costs, improved agility, more empowered employees, and the ability to ramp to more locations quickly.
Dell CloudIQ can monitor and make recommendations across the entire technology stack, emphasizing infrastructure health issues and allowing greater automation in the future.
Approaches to Automation
Michio Kaku had an interesting view on approaching automation, particularly in emerging countries where cutting edge technology is not often available. He suggested you start much like the automotive industry, where automation carries from manufacturing and increasingly into the products they sell. Start with repetitive machines that can do the same thing over and over again, much like what happens in automotive assembly lines. Then move to pattern recognition software capabilities currently used by firms like BlackBerry’s Cylance for effective malware mitigation. Finally, machine learning and deep learning can advance their capabilities. This last is cutting edge, but if you don’t transition through the earlier concepts and related technologies, you won’t have the necessary infrastructure or technical competence to execute the fourth step effectively.
Kaku added that we are currently in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It will delineate where humans and machines best function with humans better with the unknown and machines increasingly operate in the known world autonomously.
IT in a Box
We have a decade or so before we get to IT in a box, but this presentation reminds us that change is coming, and it is coming rapidly. Increasingly, bridge skills will be needed to implement these evolving automated systems in the industries that want them. One benefit is that IT folks already know the technology, unlike healthcare, manufacturing, or legal markets looking at AI solutions. AI is part of the technical landscape that IT already has to address. Thus, it should be easier to find and train bridge employees — who know both the subject matter and the AI technology — than to train a doctor, lawyer, or manufacturing worker in advanced technology. An IT tech in any of these other markets might be able to transition to become a bridge employee based on what they’ve learned servicing one of these verticals.
With these changes comes risks and opportunities. Still, the benefits of automating, if only to free up IT time to do other critical tasks, will undoubtedly drive that automation into the industry. This effort will take decades, and those that rise as experts could find themselves highly sought after, providing a significant incentive to help drive this change.