Automate, Innovate, Learn: Way Ahead for IT Services Providers and Buyers
Digital technologies continue to disrupt every business as we know it. In response, IT service providers must first help clients navigate the disruption to future-proof their business, innovate, and grow. Then, they must do the same for themselves. From a conventional services and applications provider to a problem-finder, strategic advisor and innovator of next-generation services, the role of the IT service provider has irrevocably changed.
Technologies for smart automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are fuelling this change in the way IT services are delivered. The implementation of these technologies is resulting in pervasive automation, moving the industry away from the conventional ‘people only’ IT services delivery model to a much more powerful ‘people plus software’ model to deliver these essential services.
The foundation of the ‘people plus software’ model is premised on the principle that if a task (as part of a service) needs to be done more than once, in the same manner as it was first done, and if the need for the task to be performed can be predicted, it can be easily automated by software. So, the ‘people plus software’ model solves the same problems that traditional IT services do, but with much greater efficiency and productivity. In fact, several traditional services lend themselves readily to the application of automation, robotics, and AI. For example, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), application verification and infrastructure services comprise functions that involve several well-defined predictable, repeatable tasks and therefore can be software-driven with relative ease. Automation in IT services, however, can be significantly more intelligent and disruptive than just mechanizing simple routine tasks. Consider the case of software-led automation that goes well beyond voice-based simple first line service support, to provide last line support in IT operations – that often entails specialised tasks such as fixing software code, automating test-frameworks, curating knowledge and even intelligently automating process management.
But the point of this automation, lies well beyond mere automation itself. It creates productivity gains – both for the service provider as well as the enterprise contracting these services – that can then be channelled to power innovation. As automated systems and software increasingly solve well-defined problems for IT service providers, it creates for people the time and bandwidth to devote to more creative, value-generating activities that no machine can deliver. Be that finding problems that don’t yet have solutions or discovering breakthrough innovations. However, for the technology worker with a skill set honed solely to work with the traditional IT services model, transitioning to roles requiring fundamental innovation and problem finding will take some doing. That’s why, IT companies have a responsibility to help their employees re-train and right-skill so they can continue to be relevant in these times of deep and disruptive change.
To help employee’s upskill, design thinking can play an essential role in unshackling practical creativity and inspiring valuable innovations for customers. The design thinking approach is a great way to teach people, at scale, how to problem-find using repeatable and practical methods as well as explore new avenues of innovation. It means ideas will no longer be rare events that happen within innovation departments and labs, but an integral part of business as usual. With the most junior engineers working alongside senior leaders to imagine and implement new ideas and concepts, breakthrough innovation might happen intermittently, but bite-sized, on-the-job, grassroots innovations-at-scale will be an almost every day occurrence. For example, when we trained our employees in design thinking, ideas began to go viral. One idea about how best to optimise railway maintenance was then repurposed in a post office, in a retail setting, and in a distribution chain: a single great thought transformed multiple industries. These ideas impressed clients so much that they too are now investigating how design thinking can transform their organisation.
Whilst we are seeing good outcomes, finding enough people trained in all the new technologies that are rapidly emerging, remains a challenge. It is no easy task for the workforce to keep their skills up-to-date with these emerging technologies. One way to address this is to ensure that people with related or adjoining skills are continuously upgrading their skills, and reskilling in closely related areas to meet changing demands. And most importantly, learning must continue throughout our lives, well beyond the traditional classroom, with enterprises and employers investing in and nurturing their talent pools.
To automate is to make space and bandwidth to innovate. And this duality of automation and learning can only be sustainably pursued in a culture of lifelong education and learning, where finding and framing problems is as valued as thinking critically and building creative solutions on the job. This is the future of the business of next-generation IT services. Driven by people ready to adapt and learn with the next wave of disruptive technologies and the new roles that come with it, not once, but constantly throughout their careers.