In a 2011 op-ed piece, "Why Software is Eating the World," Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, famously predicted that software was poised to upset large parts of the economy. Looking back, he couldn’t have been more right. Brick-and-mortar retail, the hospitality industry, and transportation are just a few examples of industries being disrupted by software (hello, Amazon, AirbnB and Uber). The result is that many well-known companies are now retooling themselves to compete in the age of software.
The impact of a world that is increasingly defined by software can be seen in the rise of the X-as-a-service phenomenon. Organizations have begun to position themselves as “the Uber of x” – where “x” may be food, delivery services, or any number of industries. Undoubtedly, software will continue to redefine traditional industries, which will lead to the next big wave of disruption centered on artificial intelligence and automation. We are already in the early stages of an age of technology automation, where self-driving vehicles, robots in the workplace, and voice-controlled smart devices in our homes are no longer science fiction. The steady march of software combined with AI and automation will ensure that the nature of work will continue to evolve.
This evolution toward an increasingly automated workplace will have implications for human jobs. While it’s an overstatement to say automation is a "job killer," it is having an impact on the workforce and the types of jobs done by humans versus machines. This has been the case time and again as advancements in technology have changed the way we work. Recall the story of John Henry, who battled (and defeated) a steam drill with brawn in a showdown of man vs. machine – ultimately costing him his life. My belief is that we don’t need to battle automation, because it has the potential to create new jobs in IT and, more importantly, better jobs.
In the latest release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, there were 5 million job openings in the U.S.; employers continue to have problems finding qualified candidates to fill these positions. Depending on whom you ask and where you look, we’re either facing a shortage of science, technology, engineering and math workers or we’re in an all-out crisis. One of the potential benefits of automation may be in addressing the shortfall in the number of skilled workers in STEM fields.
IT will have its cotton-gin moment, where machines and automated processes assist humans and free their time, allowing them to work on transformative projects. In the same way that manufacturers that chose not to adopt the assembly line could not compete with those that did, companies that embrace automation will develop worker skills and perhaps add more jobs due to increased productivity. Workers will have the opportunity to delegate routine tasks to machines to quickly analyze, monitor, and alert people to system errors and, in some cases, self-correct.
At Juniper Networks, we have made a push toward the cloud and automation in many of our IT processes as well as in our business philosophy. Though we're known as a hardware company, more than 80% of our engineers work on software. A great example of working with automation vs. against it is our Software Studio 3.0 initiative in which, among other milestones, we have eliminated logistical obstacles associated with hardware that slow down software development for our customers. We have now automated software test procedures and have gone from releasing software two to three times a year to delivering 100 software releases in a similar amount of time.
As with the introduction of the cotton gin or the assembly line, automation employed correctly will work in service of humans, not the other way around. In an automated IT department, workers will have more time to focus on creative and strategic projects that involve emotional intelligence and social communication, areas where machines fall short.
We have found that new automated procedures have freed up as much as 90% of the IT team’s time. Instead of focusing on routine activities such as test automation and code check in, IT teams can now work on innovative projects and transformational efforts for the company. As a result, we’ve been able to fund and support an ERP upgrade, a system overhaul, and a business transformation effort.
For all the attention given to disrupters, none of them, from ride-sharing services to overnight grocery deliveries, would be possible without humans working alongside machines. There will be even more rapid and dramatic change in the next few years with the emergence of adaptive mega services – bundled services with a cohesive interface working seamlessly together, rather than separate individual programs or apps responsible for singular tasks. Mega services will transform enterprise and consumer experiences, in what we like to call “digital cohesion,” in which multiple applications self-assemble to provide autonomous and predictive services that continually adapt to personal behaviors. Companies who embrace this vision will be in a unique and enviable position in their industries to free up time to drive innovation.
Dr. Kireeti Kompella is Chief Technology Officer of Engineering at Juniper Networks. With more than 20 years in the engineering industry, Kompella has deep experience in Packet Transport, large-scale MPLS, VPNs, VPLS, and Layer 1 to Layer 3 networking, and holds 46 issued patents.
Hear more about automation in IT from Kireeti Kompella live and in person at Interop ITX, where he will present "Robots In The IT Industry…Friend or Foe?" The session will cover what the IT workforce will look like in the future and the skills engineers will need. Don't miss out! Register now for Interop ITX, May 15-19 in Las Vegas.