Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The bots are coming

The recent Microsoft build conference reinforced to me the fundamental change that is taking place with technology. For me what really stood out was the fact that ‘bots’ are now front and center of businesses like Microsoft. They are providing the framework for greater automation as the above video highlights.

Although this is a longer video from Dan Pink, I really urge you to watch and listen to the message it contains.

In essence, what Dan is saying is that anything where the steps can be written down will be automated. This means that only creative, or right brain jobs, are those that will survive in the future.

I’d also draw your attention to this list he provides in regards current tasks about your work that are under threat:

  1. Can someone overseas do it cheaper
  2. Can a computer do it faster
  3. Is what you're selling in demand in an age of abundance

Think about that in light of IT. More and more tasks are being outsourced overseas to at labour rates that are much cheaper but in many cases at a higher competency rate. Tools like PowerShell, If This Then That (ifttt.com) and Zapier (zapier.com), Microsoft PowerApps and the new Office 365 Connectors are only the start of the automation that technology will bring us. Finally, it is going to be almost impossible to sell a product that isn’t unique in an age where you competition can come from virtually anywhere on the globe.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to bring us not only automation on a unprecedented scale but thanks to machine learning the bots are going to know more about you that you know yourself. They’ll know where you go every day at 9am, they’ll know what meals your prefer, who you regularly talk to and when, your favourite holiday destinations and hotel and more. This is all thanks to the explosion of not only big data but also automation.

The funny thing is that I see so many people in IT who believe they are at the cutting edge of technology because they install the latest OS onto a desktop or server. Nothing could be further from the truth. Thanks to Windows 10 updates with AUTOMATICALLY be installed. Thanks to Windows 10 new features will AUTOMATICALLY be installed. Thanks to click to run Office updated and new features will AUTOMATICALLY be installed. See the trend? Automation rules.

Services like Azure that allow infrastructure to be migrated to on-demand data centres where you only pay for what you need. They also allow the consumption of services that were once only available to the biggest businesses, now available to all. They are also moving to complete software as a service (SaaS) offering, where you don’t even need to worry about what makes the stuff tick. It scales automatically as demand increases and whose costs decrease as it become more commoditised. All this speaks to rule number one above, can someone else do it bigger, better, faster? Yes, they sure can when it comes to IT.

If you are selling Managed Services today, how is your business any different from your competitors? You use the same tools. You provide the same type of service. You are simply maintaining the system, not really adding value. We are already seeing the MSP market become commoditised. This means the only path to sustainable profitability is with scale. I can’t see many in the MSP being able to scale to a level to maintain profitability thanks to growing outsourcing and automation.

It is clear to me that if your business conforms with any of the rules listed above you really need to take a long, hard, pragmatic look at where your opportunities may lie in the future. For as Dan says, if it is all left brain stuff then it is only a matter of time before the bots put you out of business. As I said over four years ago:

It’s a dev world

and if your business isn’t about building ‘right-brain’ products and services then your chances of success are low. I urge you to examine your business in light of:

  1. Can someone overseas do it cheaper
  2. Can a computer do it faster
  3. Is what you're selling in demand in an age of abundance

and prepare for the changes that are on our doorstep today.