Managing director of NIO U.S. operations and global chief information officer.
Over the past 30 years, I’ve been privileged to witness many significant advances in computer science. We have seen the rise of licensed ERP and CRM suites for on-premise business workflows, followed by software-as-a-service subscriptions delivered online from remote data centers.
That initial step into the cloud led to the wild popularity of mobile devices, apps and social media platforms. In the last decade or so, we have embraced the internet of things (IoT), which is churning out massive volumes of data to enable better decision-making. We are making steady progress toward a new autonomous-of-things (AoT) concept based on the growing maturity of machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies.
Drawing on all these advances, I believe we are now entering an era of autonomous IT. The analogy of IT as a dependable utility is helpful because that is what it should be. We don’t care how our electricity generates or is delivered — we just want it to work.
Likewise, IT should be as reliable as our essential utilities for power and water. However, the accelerating pace of change challenges CIOs. Over the past decade, IT has evolved from being a cost center to a strategic weapon for the business. This shift has stemmed from the growth and maturity of cloud computing. Early cloud software companies pioneered the utility model by delivering business applications as fixed-price services. Now IT is regarded and elevated to a higher position as a strategic differentiator, at the same level as core R&D functions in a fast-paced environment. We innovate organizations around the world.
Unfortunately, some organizations still view IT as a cost center-oriented discipline. Their first thought is to devote budgets to engineering teams to drive faster innovation. They downplay IT as being mere technical support while continually pressuring CIOs to do more with less funding. This traditional view of IT is slowly but surely transforming in today’s cognitive computing era. CIOs now have the tools to strategically impact the business by adopting autonomous IT, which allows technology systems to monitor and operate business processes without human intervention. This transformation can generate considerable benefits in terms of cost, efficiency and productivity. Such progress stems from the recent evolution of cloud computing into cognitive computing, which combines elements of artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing.
Using Autonomous IT To Drive Electric Vehicle Manufacturing
Our company is a global electric vehicle maker based in China. Like many companies, we initially viewed IT as a cost center. But over time, IT has steadily moved up the value chain to become part of our R&D engineering cluster.
We have widely adopted autonomous IT across our company to address internal help-desk functions, HR recruiting and improvements to our customers’ driving experience. In each case, we have worked to create “agentless agents” that provide support services without human intervention.
This culminated with the development of our in-vehicle voice agent, which learns to recognize each driver’s customized preferences. For example, if there is a problem with the air conditioning inside the car, the consumer would traditionally call the product help desk or log in with a mobile app to get a help ticket from the contact page, which is tedious and inefficient. Now the driver can explain the issue directly through the NOMI.
Paving the Path toward Autonomous IT
The business advantages of autonomous IT are nearly limitless because IT is a common discipline across all industries, including finance, supply chain, legal, HR and more. In turn, these benefits can be widely applicable to consumer brands, retailers, tech companies, health care firms and almost any other sector. IT provides essential functions for any organization, so the question becomes, who will successfully optimize their IT investments to drive new business models?
If your company is considering implementing autonomous IT, here are some key considerations to keep in mind.
• The path to autonomous IT should begin by hiring skilled resources with strong expertise in artificial intelligence, machine learning and neural networks, a branch of cognitive computing. These experts can develop systems for much more proactive IT monitoring, problem detection and resolution.
• Identify three to five critical use cases that prove the business value of autonomous IT rather than trying to automate all of your organization’s processes at once. Areas with strong potential for automation in any industry include the IT help desk and HR recruitment processes to realize a few quick wins.
For the help desk function, conversational AI agents can talk to cognitive computing agents. IT users can troubleshoot computer and software problems without leaving their desks. The need for human recruiters is re-imagined through autonomous screening. Most companies have standard operating procedures for recruiters to match job descriptions with competencies and years of experience before sourcing candidates from LinkedIn and other job sites. That whole screening process can be fully automated with machine learning before the department leader makes the actual hire.
In each case, IT leaders build new “agentless agents” to provide support services without human intervention. For example, Bank of America has introduced an AI conversational agent called Erica that helps bank customers solve problems and resolve questions about their accounts.
Success requires making IT more autonomous through new agentless agents. By enabling seamless automation in near real-time, your company can turn database queries and IT provisioning into self-service processes without any need for human engineers to provision the resources up or down.
For such innovations to be truly autonomous, they must be nearly instantaneous, and we are still on that journey. Of course, nothing is ever perfect, and that is where continuous innovation comes in. But CIOs who invest aggressively in this vision of autonomous IT today can achieve significant business benefits and competitive advantages tomorrow.
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