In last year’s Oscar-nominated movie, “Hidden Figures,” one of the main characters confronts the arrival of a mainframe IBM computer. As a NASA mathematician in the early years of the space program, she astutely realizes the machine could put her out of a job very quickly unless she adapts – and learns how to get more from it.
Today, IT professionals reading headlines about the future of work face similar concerns. Technology – artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation, especially – could potentially reshape entire lines of work. While manufacturing jobs have already been impacted, even white-collar jobs seem to be on the line, including accounting and legal services. But what about IT? How will these technologies reshape the IT team of the future?
For all professionals, the good news is that automation is more likely to impact individual activities, says McKinsey Global Institute. Just 5% of occupations are candidates for full automation. The rest are likely to be only partially automated.
“As processes are transformed by the automation of individual activities, people will perform activities that complement the work that machines do, and vice versa,” McKinsey says.
Technology roles are no exception, meaning the IT team of the future will be comprised of a much different set of players with new roles and responsibilities. Here’s what to expect when the virtual robots arrive at your workplace.
Data Collection and Processing
Virtual robots excel at tasks that are highly structured, repetitive and routine. Data collection and processing fits this description, and McKinsey ranks these tasks high on the list of activities most susceptible to automation.
But businesses have much to gain from the strategic use of this data, and they need people who can derive insights that solve problems and create new opportunities. While automation will accelerate the pace of data collection, it will also spark the need to add data scientists to the IT team and throughout the organization.
System Administration and Maintenance
Many of the routine tasks involved in system administration – building web servers and monitoring systems – are already being automated. But the jobs of these IT professionals won’t disappear when the virtual robots appear. They’ll simply change. After all, someone needs to design and maintain the robots.
High profile cyberattacks emphasize the need for data security expertise. But some level of automation is likely. Even now, the industry is working on security intelligence software that can identify and thwart potential threats. The responsibilities of cybersecurity analysts will shift to building stronger lines of defense and other tasks.
Ultimately, IT is one of the rare fields in which automation and artificial intelligence will create more jobs – not fewer. The difference is that tomorrow’s IT team will look very different than today’s.
For IT professionals, the best way to future-proof your job is to continuously build and add new skills. The best defense is to diversify. Being a generalist will be far more valuable as IT teams become a mix of humans and robots. And for the foreseeable future at least, there are some skills that robots can’t replicate, including complex decision-making, creativity, innovation – in other words, the type of work that complements what robots can do.