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Artificial Intelligence – Friend or Foe?

by Christine Heckart on ‎05-08-2017 01:16 PM (5,617 Views)

As we well know, digital transformation is disrupting, changing and recreating entire industries. And with it comes a slew of new, exciting technologies that are redefining the way we live and work.  For the IT industry, these technologies are also driving us to rethink what we do, how we do it, and what skills we need in order to stay relevant in a rapidly changing environment. Of all the technologies that are impacting the role of the IT department (and there are many), none has garnered as much attention from both the sector itself and the public-at-large, as artificial intelligence (AI).

Of course, we know that the science fiction world has long embraced the concept of AI. (Think Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – released in 1968! – or Westworld, a TV remake of the 1973 film that, today, is finding relevance with a whole new generation of viewers.) But artificial intelligence is no longer the stuff of science fiction. In fact, I was fascinated to see that in Brocade’s recent Global Digital Transformation Skills Index nearly half of our CIO and IT decision maker respondents cite AI as the technology that is expected to have the greatest impact on the IT department over the next decade. And they’re probably right! Consider the leaps and bounds the industry is making with natural language generation, speech recognition, and virtual agents used in customer service and support, just to name a few.

Many of our respondents cited desktop support and software testing as two IT roles currently moving away from being a human touchpoint to increasingly being handled by AI. This is particularly true in the U.S., where nearly a quarter of IT leaders are seeing these roles replaced. At the other end of the scale is the UK, where only about five percent recognize this as a trend. It’s clear that AI adoption is growing, but different markets are at very different levels of maturity.

So what does this trend spell for IT? With reports and headlines declaring AI the death knell for thousands of jobs, our data has revealed that IT heads are taking a more measured view of the threats and opportunities that AI brings. As well they should.

When looking further into the future, it’s clear that IT leaders recognize that AI will have, at least to some extent, a role to play in almost every aspect of the IT department. Ninety-one percent of respondents expect some part of their role to be replaced by AI over the coming decade, whether it’s network function management or even strategy planning.

I’m gratified to see that rather than feeling threatened by this gradual move towards AI, IT decision makers are recognizing the steps and opportunities they can take to remain relevant in an increasingly AI-centric world. Currently, AI is the skill that respondents most feel is missing in their business (38%). Sixty-eight percent agree that more specialist skills like AI will be key attributes of the IT team of the future, and over half believe that the most crucial skill that staff will have to master is AI - more than any other discipline.

We know that once a new technology begins to experience more wide-spread adoption, every passing day in which your skill set remains stagnant, your personal relevance gap grows larger. No one wants to be in that position. In today’s rapidly evolving technology environment, the biggest risk to an IT professional is to do nothing.

It’s no wonder, then, that IT heads are putting a greater focus on skill development than ever before. Our study shows that participants in the UK want to be spending twice as much time on skill development as they are currently. In France, learning new skills is the area in which respondents most want to be spending their time. And these regions are not alone. Globally, 90% of respondents agreed that commitment to skills development was an important attribute for any potential new hire.

Everyone agrees that embracing new technologies and keeping skills fresh is critical for continued success. Yet, let’s be honest here, learning new things is hard. When we’re good at the things we know, the idea of failing at something new is scary. Maybe we know what we need to do to stay relevant, but the sometimes daunting prospect of actually doing it is something else altogether!

Don’t worry. The key is to start small with something that feels manageable, and then build your portfolio of skills over time. When you think about it, data is at the very heart of AI - collecting it, analyzing it and taking action on that analysis. So building your skills around automation, software networking and data analytics is great place to start. There is a lot of training available online, not to mention free software you can use as you build your new skills.

So, is AI a threat to the IT department? It’s certainly going to redefine a lot of what we do in networking. Whether it’s actually a threat will largely depend on ITs willingness to adapt to new skills and technologies. Those who stay relevant make themselves invaluable. And even more, those who can lead others through myriad of change in a technology landscape that will increasingly include AI will create a great opportunity for their own advancement. Take advantage of this new, shiny thing. You are absolutely up to the task!