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Intelligent agents and automation will be needed to support digitisation efforts in customer service

Within three years, 40% of IT infrastructure and operations staff expect to have taken on multiple roles in their companies, according to research. Analyst Gartner has forecast that, by 2019, IT technical specialist hires will have fallen by more than 5%, and that by 2021, 40% of IT staff will have multiple roles, most of which will be business-related rather than technology-related.  However, two-thirds of organisations are not adequately addressing the infrastructure and operations (I&O) skills gaps that will hinder their digital business initiatives, according to Gartner.

It predicted that, by 2020, 75% of organisations will experience visible business disruptions because of I&O skills gaps – a big jump from less than 20% in 2016. Gartner urged CIOs to implement vastly different roles and technologies across the IT function over the next five years. It also suggested IT infrastructure and operations leaders should begin by developing these skills with the talent they already have. Most companies do not have an accurate inventory of the available skills in their current IT workforce, so this must be a first step, said Gartner.

The pace of change and the complexity of modern IT infrastructure are among the factors contributing to greater levels of automation in IT. Artificial intelligence (AI) is starting to be applied to the vast datasets in server and database logs, to power proactive ITSM and database management in order to reduce unplanned downtime. Hank Marquis, research director at Gartner, said: “What made infrastructure and operations leaders successful in the past is not what will make them thrive in the future.” Many IT companies are developing intelligent agent technology to enhance IT service management, which potentially reduces the burden on the IT support desk. More automation is also being applied to IT operations, as technologies from massive IT infrastructure running in public clouds trickles down to mainstream IT.

IT operations teams are being forced to redefine their roles and value propositions from those of technology providers to become trusted advisers and differentiated business partners. The challenge is that most I&O professionals do not yet have the broad skillsets that organisations will need from them. Organisations of all sizes, industries and geographies increasingly rely on technology for customer engagement, competitive differentiation and, in many cases, their very business processes.

This reliance on technology and, specifically, software has placed a tremendous responsibility on IT teams to deliver innovation and quality faster than ever. This change requires IT teams to automate everything from planning to testing to release processes, which, in turn, requires people with skills to develop automated test frameworks and tests, to build continuous integration pipelines and automated releases processes.

To be successful, IT team members need to understand infrastructure, automation tools and how to build automation processes that are resilient. These are similar to the types of skills required to successfully deploy and operate a cloud-based service. But before automation and intelligent agents can really take off in the enterprise, IT operations teams will need to build knowledge management systems.

Gartner said knowledge management is essential for a chatbot or virtual support agent (VSA) to provide answers to business consumers, but the response can only repeat scripted answers when based on existing data from a static knowledge base. It warned that intelligent agents without access to this rich source of knowledge cannot provide intelligent responses. As such, Gartner suggested that infrastructure and operations managers will need to establish or improve knowledge management initiatives.

People are considered the biggest barrier to digitisation initiatives. This applies not only to employees as a whole, but also to IT infrastructure and operations staff, whose jobs will be deskilled because of automation and intelligent agents.

Gartner predicted that, by 2020, 99% of AI initiatives in IT service management will fail because of the lack of an established knowledge management foundation. But once automation has been built into IT, there is less need for in-depth technical skills. Instead, Gartner sees a career for IT people who can take advantage of the opportunities presented by new technologies to improve the business.

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