The topic of artificial intelligence is all the rage this year, with scores of news articles, blogs and webinars focused on machine learning or software automation. Getting a lot less attention to date has been the advanced AI technology known as deep learning.

Attention to deep learning will no doubt be aided by this week's announcement from IBM that it is launching a deep learning-as-a-service tool. The goal is to help firms more rapidly embrace deep learning and artificial intelligence initiatives, in light of a shortage of professionals with related skills.

Many organizations are slow at adopting progressive methods. IT professionals need to prepare themselves for substantial change and a threat to jobs. This is because there is an accelerating and disruptive digital technology transformation in progress. It is referred to as the “digital revolution” which includes artificial intelligence. It can potentially adversely impact an organization’s competitiveness and will be replacing employee jobs with computers.

However, there are ways to mitigate the risks by embracing opportunities. An example is a new service recently announced by IBM. IBM’s product is “Deep Learning as a Service within Watson Studio.” It is described in this link:

https://www.ibm.com/blogs/watson/2018/03/deep-learning-service-ibm-makes-advanced-ai-accessible-users-everywhere/

The blog article states that this service “embraces a wide array of popular open source frameworks like TensorFlow, Caffe, PyTorch and others, and offers them truly as a cloud-native service on IBM Cloud, lowering the barrier to entry for deep learning. It combines the flexibility, ease-of-use and economics of a cloud service with the compute power of deep learning. With easy to use REST APIs, one can train deep learning models with different amounts of resources per user requirements, or budget.”

Technology adoption rates are accelerating

Examples of digitization disrupting traditional industries such as Uber for car passenger transportation and Airbnb for temporary residence rentals are just the tip of the iceberg. Those two examples involve an electronic marketplace matching supply with demand in the taxi and hotel industries.

It is another category of digitization – artificial intelligence (AI) including machine learning with algorithms, robotic process automation (RPA), and cognitive computing software – that will create the dramatic changes.

Digital transformation is not exclusively about physical robots but also about software robots that perform functions that white collar employees perform. Digital transformation presents great potential but also raises concerns. It can provide invaluable business enhancements but also be a threat to one’s job security.

Consider the adoption time length duration of technologies that we are more familiar with such as television in the 1950s followed by handheld calculators, mainframe computers, desktop computers, personal laptop computers, and now mobile phones. For each of these the time length from the initial introduction of the product to its commonplace presence was fast, but what is more relevant is that the time length rates for new technologies keep getting shorter.

Disruption from automation – a threat and opportunity

Many executives, managers and organizations underestimate how soon they will be affected by automation and the severity of its impact. This means that many organizations are unprepared for the effects of digital disruption and may pay the price through lower competitive performance and lost business from customers. Thus it is important for IT professionals to recognize not only the speed of digital disruption, but also the opportunities and risks that it brings, so they can adjust and continue to provide organizational value.

Organizations that embrace a “digital disruptor” way of thinking will gain a competitive edge. They will not simply perform their existing processes and services in new ways. They will automate new and different processes and services as new business models. This includes accessing “big data” – both internal organization and external data – and leveraging real time in-memory microchip computing as an advance to legacy systems and technologies.

Organizations must either “disrupt” or “be disrupted.” Companies often fail to recognize disruptive threats until it is too late. And even if they do, they may fail to act boldly and quickly enough. Embracing “digital transformation” is their recourse for protection and preservation.

An optimistic view for IT professionals

There is some good news for IT professionals who feel threatened. Digital technology also offers an unprecedented opportunity for IT professionals to become more strategic. The progressive IT professionals will recognize that it is vital to embrace this emerging digital reality and learn how to work alongside software tools and intelligent machine learning algorithms.

IT professionals who anticipate the effects of digital disruption can adjust their skills, work with automation rather than compete against it, add value, and continue to be effective contributors to their organization. IT professionals do not need to be “data scientists.” They simply need competence to use analytical methods. This is what IBM’s new service is intended to provide.

Technology advances have historically eliminated some jobs and created new job opportunities. For example, bank tellers can become loan officers. There is no reason to suppose that this trend will not continue. One can optimistically believe that jobs will continue to be created, enhanced and destroyed by emerging technologies much as they have in the past.

Different people have different reactions to change. Some people may deny the change, while others may embrace it. There are several ways that IT professional can reduce the impact on themselves. Two ways are enhancing their analytical skills with further education and training Such as with IBM’s service, and augmenting the digital automation,

As one begins to more fully understand the impact of artificial intelligence and software automation as well as the speed at which will impact jobs, IT professionals have two broad choices. One is be fearful, wonder if they chose the wrong profession, and pursue a different career. The other is to embrace the imminent impact from automation and prepare themselves more fulfilling work that will bring increasing value to their organizations as well as to themselves.

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