The IT support market was worth $694 billion in 2018. Growth in this industry has fueled a need for more AI solutions to address a growing array of challenges customers face. Although AI has been a major gamechanger in the IT sector, it is not likely to replace human users anytime soon.
AI Changes IT – But Only to a Limited Extent Thus Far
There is – and has been, for some time now – a rather ironic disruption taking place in the IT support sector. Technology is disrupting the livelihoods of the very people whose job it is to support IT in all of its manifestations. AI technology has been the biggest disruptor of the 21st Century.
There might be a singular moment in human history, where years from now we’ll look back and realize this was the transition when the student became the master. AI was handed the power by exiting humans, and today we’re dodging Terminators.
The IT support profession has benefited immensely from AI. Bob Violino of Computer World talks about some of the changes that the profession has seen as AI becomes more impregnated in their daily service models.
“Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are turning up seemingly everywhere these days, and the IT support function is no exception. In fact, experts see AI in various forms becoming a key component of the help desk in the years to come,” he writes.
These discussions have led some to believe that AI is going to be the entirety of IT in the future. It might be, but looking at the reality of the disruption today, we can see it’s far more a matter of AI’s evolution allowing us to sift out what humans are really good at. Although AI developers talk a big game, very few companies are implementing it in the manner of AI taking over everything (for example) IT support does, full stop. Not at all.
IT Support is Evolving in Response to Developments in AI
AI is changing every facet of our lives governed by technology. One of the fields that has been most impacted by AI has been IT support.
If you’re looking at, say, hiring a reliable partner in London, the voice on the phone, the interaction, and the beings who actually do the support work, will be very much human. The trick is to know what factors to consider when finding an IT support, rather than expecting a set of AI algorithms to do all of the heavy lifting.
The short reason is no matter AI’s disruptive shadow on the landscape, AI just isn’t that good yet.
It’s easy to be dazzled by some remarkable displays of artificial intelligence, but AI is still a long way off from genuinely emulating the massive consciousness of a human being, like being able to discern subtle nuances in conversation or to rapidly figure out a (humanly pleasing) route to resolution by drawing on incredibly diverse experiences and learning.
AI simply can’t do that… yet.
Changing roles will make IT support better
The longer reason (and its explanation) is: AI is still amazing in its fledgling abilities – it might not be able to replace entire echelons of workers, but it’s broken some spooky ground so far.
Couple that with growing consumer intolerance of the script-reading lost souls at many sad IT support centers, and you get the budding promise of AI. That’s all good and well, but history shows us that such changes – especially industrial or technical advances – have only ever allowed jobs to morph in accommodating the new tech.
We’re likely to see that again – jobs will be lost to AI, yes, but they’ll re-manifest in a different, AI-enabled environment that has different demands for which humans are uniquely skilled.
We’re not redundant yet!
It might never manifest that AI takes over and wipes us off the planet, but looking at the two biggest trends shaping the near future, they are automation, yes, and the customer experience. It’s within this context that IT service and support is morphing – and on the back of dual, often seemingly juxtaposed drivers. Indeed, these two impetuses distill as a far more subtle and less scary prognosis for the future of IT support workers.
Although it advances almost daily and its demonstrable abilities have wowed (or scared) modern audiences, AI suffers from a similar affliction to cryptocurrency – a lack of scalability and fungibility. Its scalability truly depends on its fungibility and, well, vice-versa too.
While companies are experiencing and generating a lot of buzz about AI, particularly in IT support and other highly technical customer-facing roles, AI cannot be said to be fungible right now in the sense that we can simply ‘trade’ human support with automation.
It’s not the same currency.
Hence, scaling AI up into the default approach to tech support isn’t happening either, because it’s not simply exchangeable with human participation and results. We’re still on the cusp here – a learning phase, an initial demonstration of abilities. AI is in R&D, not in every support call you make (not yet)!
For the same reasons people don’t simply dump their fiat and adopt Bitcoin as a better replacement – no matter that on almost all metrics it appears indeed to be a better way of doing things – so, too, are companies loathe to miscalculate the balance between automation and the customer experience when the emotional connection of caring remains so integral to support calls, and call outs.
If anything, the dual imperatives driving businesses into the future should make IT support workers even better in their roles, no matter how those roles might change.
Beyond the trepidation, a way forward
IT support has suffered from the same dynamics as every workplace and industry; there are competent people with intelligence and drive, and less competent architecture, too. The feared subtext of the narrative around AI in business application is fed by the latter group, or rather the client’s experience of lackluster support. The subtext says: “AI is going to eliminate jobs amongst support staff hand over fist.” However, while there’s a lot of talking about automation and AI, not a large percentage of companies are implementing it apace.
There’s the threat of job losses and diminished service with every new tech to disrupt the workplace, but history shows us that it seldom manifests that way. In this sense, the IT support industry might be a sterling example. Decades ago, the internet happened, and software became more intelligent and user-friendly alongside rapidly evolving hardware.
Along with that came a whole new industry in its own right – IT support.
A great case in point.
That said, another way the twin imperatives of automation and heightened customer experiences are manifesting as a hybrid force, is that companies are hesitant to throw their customers into a sea of automation. They know only too well how quickly even giant names can alienate a fan base through negative experiences or interaction. Hence the likelihood that IT support jobs may very well vanish in title only, only to morph back into existence on the back of some aspect of automation, or automation as it’s applied to the customer experience.
Yes, companies are obliged to find ways to reduce (especially) IT overhead, and AI alongside robotics (in the case of the Industrial IoT) will help them do exactly that. But while AI might enhance the customer experience through automating perhaps several components of a support interaction, the guy who lost his role to that AI will now be contributing to that successful interaction by doing tasks that humans are uniquely good at doing.
Indeed, it will have been AI automation that helped define such unique abilities, as it will do for the myriad of workers now performing tasks we should rather leave to AI, for the sake of our clients.
AI is Not Replacing Human IT Employees Just Yet
It’s okay, folks. Humans aren’t redundant yet – we’re just holding our breath right now, waiting to see how technology – AI, especially – is going to morph our future working landscape.