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The robots are coming but they should be helpful

Is automation (and robots) going to take jobs away? That was one of the questions exercising Arnie Bellini (pictured), chief executive of Connectwise on a visit to the UK today for his company’s IT Nation conference in Kensington. 350 partner professionals heard him keynote about what automation would be able to do to to make their businesses more profitable, and his overall answer seems to have been a positive one: make people’s lives better.

He was in a reflective mood when New Statesman Tech met up with him, having been presenting on where technology was taking the world and the technologies available to exploit this right now. He’d spoken about transportation, power and energy and of course artificial intelligence. “We’ve looked hard and far out there, and what we wanted to do was get technology providers a little out of the box, to think about where technology is going to take the world and how they can play a huge role.”

In reality there are opportunities today. Managed services, managed security is going to be a big thing, cloud service provision is coming: “People in the technology space are very comfortable with technology that’s under the roof of their clients, managing and monitoring and taking care of that. They’re uncomfortable having any of that moving into the cloud.” Connectwise’s role here is to offer concepts, ideas and tools to make this seemingly inevitable move work in a business sense as well as technical for its partners.

Communications

Some of the objections from the end user community are cultural and even linguistic. Driverless cars are an example; people know they’re possible but may not be happy to put their kids in one just yet. And only recently a survey said that workers didn’t want to use artificial intelligence when actually they were using it all the time, just not deploying the phrase.

“Sometimes you have to do that, just point out that it’s not happening in the future, it’s happening today. Amazon has its Alexa, and when your phone tells you it’ll take 33 minutes to get home that’s artificial intelligence. The thing is computers are getting smarter because machines can learn, and the big thing every company is pursuing these days is machine learning.” Every device with AI out there, whether the Amazon Echo or the Google equivalent, is equipped with learning.

Bellini’s own car is an experience. He has a Tesla because he wanted to experience having a computer as a vehicle. “It gets smarter,” he said. “Every time it downloads an update from the Tesla cloud it gets smarter. It pays attention to your driving, it understands your drivers compared to others.”

What a lot of people, businesses and public sector entities think, he believes, is that they can’t play in a world populated by AI, robots and technology when in fact they already do. Perception and how people communicate about this is key. “Our message is that our partners are already incumbent in this, and as technology progresses they will develop new practises and open up opportunities and in essence inherit the earth.”

Every company a technology company

He reflected on research giant Gartner Group’s belief that every company will eventually become a technology company. “There is no company in the world that can survive without an abundance of technology. Technology is disrupting every single industry and every single company.” So the IT department now has a triple duty: maintain the technology that exists, take advantage of the new stuff coming from the cloud and try to keep the company viable in the face of technological disruption. “The job has become three times as difficult. So co-managed IT is an amazing opportunity for our partners.” Also for the end client, one would hope.

One change that will hit the buying side is that the old buyer/supplier relationship is likely to fade, giving way to a partnership approach. Outsourcing has become a dirty word but there are a lot of companies out there who started getting help with IT as a temporary measure, he says, and who now accept co-managed IT as the norm. “The supplier model will always be there for heavily consumer-facing technology. The interesting thing will be to see whether technology will advance but appear to be so simple it can still be bought in that way; I believe it will become so sophisticated that there will always be the need for some sort of technology consultancy in some form.”

The classic picture of software robots and artificial intelligence is that they will take away the duller and more repetitive elements of work. He concedes this can throw out concerns about, say, the lorry driver who doesn’t particularly want to be re-skilled, but suggests it’s going to make way for greater creativity. Partner applications are already working; one partner has developed AI that enables a junior engineer to work to the level of a senior with six years’ experience.

“Computing frees up our brain space to do other things,” he said. “You’re going to find computer aided productivity everywhere in the workforce, and it’s getting stronger and stronger. It’s almost sinister – my systems aid the human being to a large extent, at what stage are they doing the job for them?” Anything serial-based can be learned and threatened by technology, he believes. He pointed to Daniel Pink’s book, “A Whole New Mind”, in which Pink posits the idea that creativity needs to become the ultimate human expression. “That’s the world that will never be invaded by technology.”

He finished with a bit of vision. “Ultimately, this is going to lead to world peace,” he said. “Once we start toiling with the day to day things that keep our brain that keep us completely focused, and start thinking about the world, society and the environment, and become more knowledgeable, you settle. It’s really ignorance that causes war; I believe it’s going to increase the IQ of the world, not decrease it.”

Utopian? Perhaps. Realistic? Maybe not. But it’s an aim, and from a business started by two brothers in a small room and two phones, it’s not a bad one.