We asked thought leaders in the industry what the future will look like when AI and automation handle much of what is now lower-level ticket requests.

by The Editors
Date Published May 10, 2022 - Last Updated January 20, 2023

Each month, we’re going to ask HDI thought leaders about different aspects of the IT service and support industry. This month, we asked the following:

In the next five years, do you think automation will result in more, the same, or fewer jobs in IT service and support, and why? Here were their responses:

Pete McGarahan, senior director of IT infrastructure services, First American

As General Eric Shinseki said, “If you dislike change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

It’s easy to predict that there will be fewer of the same jobs/positions within IT service and support organizations. Let’s challenge ourselves to get engaged and involved with the future business strategy and company direction in the next few years, so we are all in alignment. Let’s start preparing the IT service and support areas that will most likely be disrupted and impacted in their current operational states. Game changing services and technologies like desktop as a service, enterprise automation for employee self-help, and AI-enabled search via multi-channels and robotic process automation (RPA), need to be researched and accounted for in our future supporting model.

The modern service leader should understand these impacting technology trends, assess the current situation, and create a service strategy, including a roadmap for how best to navigate their IT service and support organization. In the end, they will need to create a modernized operational model to successfully support hybrid work mode in a modern workplace. There are other impacting areas that need to be considered and addressed. Think about what IT service and support leaders had to do to prepare their customers and employees to work remotely during the pandemic. Now, they must consider the many complex variables associated with the current return to office (RTO) options, lack of available talent and resources, and how digital tools and collaboration platforms have significantly changed the way knowledge workers work from anywhere.

I believe there will be less of the same types of jobs within the IT service and support industry over the next five years. The task for us is in identifying these new positions, careers and opportunities and then working to understand the required skills/experiences, training, development, and career paths. We must partner with the business, Human Resources, Talent Acquisition, Training and Development organizations to best determine the right resources for this type of work, and how best to recruit, attract, hire, and train them. Additionally, we must determine the desired and expected outcomes with new processes that measurable results in a meaningful way. The modern IT service and support organization will require:

  • Technical positions
  • Design, development and deployment positions
  • Data analytics/digital scientist positions
  • Knowledge management positions
  • Product, project and vendor management positions
  • Customer experience positions
  • Management/leadership positions
  • Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

These digitally enabling technologies and platforms will reshape the modern workplace. It will require constant attention to all things capable of being replaced or augmented with robotic and automation capabilities.

Phyllis Drucker, ITIL® certified consultant and information leader, Linium

I think it is broader than automation replacing staff. IT will have different jobs and needs to be ready to perform these new jobs.

As the scope of computerization continues to expand into every aspect of daily and corporate life, IT is already struggling to scale support and service delivery to meet organizational needs. I believe automation, instead of causing fewer jobs, will become a critical requirement that enables IT to keep up with our demand. We need to look at automating everything possible, so personnel in IT can grow to meet new areas of demand:

  • Turning Tier 1 support to chat bots and knowledge enables Tier 1 personnel to handle items that are not repetitive in nature.
  • As Tier 1 becomes more effective at finding workarounds for new known errors and getting them addressed, Tier 2 and 3 personnel can support more improvements to service delivery and new demand.
  • Tier 1 will have new support channels as concierge desks go virtual and need to be able to support these channels.

We’re not going to get the gift of new staff as the workload continues to expand, so IT needs to learn to work effectively, leveraging automation to free up resources for new demand.

So in the next 5 years there are several ways support jobs will shift:

  • Tier 1 work will become less repetitive and more interesting, increasing retention.
  • IT will be continually asked to expand their horizons into new technology: now IT will need to support business automation, robotics, virtual currencies, for example.
  • Relationship and business development work will never be replaced by automation, but IT may not expand to meet the need. Growing more junior workers to thought leader roles is key to success.

I think we need to give up trying to stop progress in order to save jobs, and instead look at the skills team members will need to be successful, and then begin preparing them. Training needs to start now, so they are able to do the jobs they will be doing in the next 5 years!

Tom Wilk, IT engineering manager, 84 Lumber

In the next five years, I think automation will result in fewer jobs in IT service and support, but not because it is eliminating them. My experience over the past six months has been brutal when trying to hire more technical positions. For example I spent four months trying to hire two systems engineers and over six months trying to find network engineers, and at the time of this writing I still have not found those network engineers. It appears there are fewer people available in the workforce than there are positions to fill.

So my thoughts are we will need automation to fill those level 1 incidents and requests. This will make more support staff available to work on higher level issues and tasks. Positions systems and network administration, engineering, and architecture will be needed. And let's not forget about cyber, systems, and network security. I coach and mentor many people in level 1 and 2 positions and help them work themselves into those higher level positions. If you are a leader and have the opportunity, start helping your L1 and 2 people, so we do not run out of talent.

Jeff Rumburg, cofounder and managing partner, MetricNet LLC

Automation in IT service and support includes end-point bots, chat and voice bots, rules-based automation tools (e.g., Watson), and true machine learning AI. Collectively, these technologies will reduce the labor component of IT service and support by about 50% in the next five years, and 70% in the next 10 years.

Initially, automation will impact the commodity end of the support spectrum - password resets, Windows, Office, Outlook, browsers, etc. This is where the first 50% headcount reduction will come from. True machine learning AI already has begun to automate support in the unique environments in which they operate, whether it be healthcare, insurance, higher education, retail banking, or any other vertical industry. This will accelerate significantly over the next five years. The bottom line is that I expect to see 70% fewer human resources working in IT service and support 10 years from now.

Some may view this as a dire prediction. However, for the best and brightest working in IT service and support, I think this is good news. Automation will work its way up the value chain, initially automating away the commodity incidents and service requests, and eventually becoming as adept at incident resolution and service request fulfillment as the best support professionals in the industry today. The role of agents and technicians will evolve into support engineers whose primary role will be to direct the bots, and step in to override the bots when the human support engineer can apply a level of human expertise that the AI has yet to master.

For precedent, look no further than the automotive assembly line, where the labor component of auto assembly has been reduced by 95% over the past 30 years. Robotic welding, painting, body panel assembly and other automation has replaced the assembly line workers of the past. The assembly line is now managed by engineers who monitor the performance of the bots on their computer screens, and make adjustments as needed to ensure that a quality product rolls off the end of the assembly line. Expect the same trend, albeit under an accelerated timeline, to unfold in IT service and support.

Christ Chagnon, ITSM Architect, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Automation is an amazing thing, but the advances in automation only help illustrate the value that an IT Service team can bring to an organization.

The first consideration is that someone still needs to design, build, deploy, and orchestrate all of these automations. We will need people with skillsets in these areas in order to make them effective and for them to show their value. Adding to this, I think many automations we do create will only serve to supplement our workforce.

There is not an IT team on this planet that complains about having an excess of time and resources. Automations will be an additional tool in our toolbox, but not to the degree of replacing all of our workers. The final thing to consider is that “automation” is just a rebranding of “code”. We have had amazing developers, capabilities, and “automations” from programming for decades, and it has only strengthened our ability to provide amazing services. The prospects of “citizen developers” and “low/no code” solutions have only made the power of automation more accessible to our teams, but in the end they are all just more skills and tools for us to use.

Tag(s): supportworld, IT service management, automation


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