Each month, we ask HDI thought leaders a question about the IT service and support industries, and share their answers. Here is this month’s question:
None of us can predict the future, but are there strategies you can suggest for steps IT support and service professionals can take to safeguard their careers against the disruption of automation?
Automation, AI, and Machine Learning will continue to disrupt support and the rest of service management. I believe that access to and use of these technologies enable us to provide the kinds of services organizations need as digital transformation continues.
But the technologies are only part of the story. It’s the creativity, innovation, strategy, and empathy that humans bring to the table that will make the difference. It’s key to understand the limitations of even the most advanced technologies and be prepared to capitalize on their capabilities while working with the organization to provide the best value for customers. It’s the human skills that will make the difference in careers going forward.
One of the lessons in the HDI Support Center Manager class is on SWOT analysis – identifying Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Strengths and Weaknesses are internal or innate, while Opportunities and Threats are external or environmental.
In teaching that course I have always used “automation” as a SWOT thought-piece for the class. The class almost always gets that automation is external, so half the work is already done. But that still leaves the other dimension. The knee-jerk reaction is to position automation as a Threat because it is assumed that it will ultimately replace people in the support center.
The more astute leaders, however, answer that automation is an Opportunity. Why? Because automation invariably soaks up the most frequent and easiest to resolve issues. That’s why quick-and-easy solutions like password reset are invariably the first things most organizations automate. What does that leave? Higher complexity, more time-consuming issues.
How is that an Opportunity? Because it gives the staff the chance to shine with the issues that today are challenging.
So, safeguarding careers in the face of automation is accomplished through upskilling! Higher level training and certification are keys to the next generation of support. But what’s critical is to do that now - today!! Don’t wait until automations are already put in place or what those astute leaders see as an Opportunity really instead becomes a Threat.
The best strategies you can use for safeguarding your career against the disruption of automation can start with showing your existing company how adaptable you are. Use these four steps for internal work or apply them as a contributor within the industry.
Step 1 - Learn your organization's strategic business outcomes. Look at industry trends and tie your knowledge or specialization to those outcomes. If you cannot link these, then you need to upskill, reskill, or shift your specialty. Strategically align new training toward the future.
Step 2 - Avoid resisting change or sharing negative opinions about it. Accept the change and keep an open mind. Stabilize by focusing on things you can control, like strengthening work or industry relationships, improving your learning, and asking to participate. Set new goals! Be willing to drop initial career planning and redirect.
Step 3 - Turn yourself around! Shift your behavior to a fixer, not a blamer. Find ways to contribute and offer constructive feedback. Help with the change by offering assistance, guiding others, and developing yourself. Look for fresh perspectives by showing interest and seeking thoughts from people optimistic about the change. Do the same in user groups and communities aligned with your goal.
Step 4 - Connect and take action! Get visible by communicating wins. Lead communities of practice & brainstorm ideas for contribution. Reach out curiously, contribute ideas, post what you learn on social media, offer to mentor others, and continue to learn new things. When it comes to contributing, be willing to fix, reimagine, and reconfigure!
You have more power than you think!
First of all, It’s not about safeguarding your career. It’s about embracing change, taking the initiative, and driving your career to new heights.
The fact is that automation is going to change the way that support centers provide assistance to consumers of IT services. Notice that I did not say “eliminate the need for support centers to provide assistance”. Having said that, automation will change how support centers provide service and support.
Let’s face it –many interactions between the support center agent and consumers are relatively simple to resolve. This is why first contact resolution rates are so high for many support centers. But think about it – what would be possible if automation eliminated the need for a consumer to contact the support center for those simple issues or requests? How would the status, reputation, and value of the support center be enhanced – not diminished – if automation delivered a better experience for both the consumer and the support center? What are those challenges that the support center could overcome if it could only find the time to do so?
So what should an IT service and support professional do when it comes to automation? First, learn everything you can about automation tools. How do they work? What are the best use cases for those platforms? What are critical success factors in the use and adoption of those tools?
Secondly, look at the support center’s first contact resolution (FCR) rate. What types of issues are driving FCR? How can automation be used to eliminate the need to contact the support center for those issues? And last, but not least - invest in yourself. I strongly believe that the future IT service and support center professional will leverage outstanding emotional intelligence, have exceptional troubleshooting and problem-solving skills, and use superior communication skills. If you feel that you could use some further development in these areas, seek out opportunities to enhance your skills through formal training or on-the-job experiences.