The future of the IT industry: How new technologies (AI & ML) are driving IT up the value chain

Last updated on September 22, 2021

 

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Raj Sabhlok: Hey, Rajesh. Here we are at the ManageEngine User Conference 2019. And I think, if I'm not mistaken, this is our ninth year of user conferences. It started, I think, in New York, if I'm not mistaken.

Both of us were there. It's really turned into a phenomenal event for us. And of course, we do it all over the world, in many cities. It's great to be here in Dallas. It's a central location for a lot of our U.S. customers and we've got hundreds of customers here, some returning customers and some newbies if you will. You know, my observation is many of them have made a lot of progress in their best practices of IT and IT management. They're still looking for the Holy Grail. I don't know what your observation is. Is there a Holy Grail? Is there a point where IT management is done and we've solved all our problems?

Rajesh: So we all have to believe the Holy Grail exists, right? That's what keeps us moving, in search of something, right? So that optimism is always important, but what we have seen, like ManageEngine is now into its end of its teens, right?

So we are like 17 now from 2002. This is what I've seen in the last 16, 17 years. I, at least personally, have seen three cycles go through. When we started, Cloud was not a big thing at all, right? It was still like everything on-premises.

So it was only during late part of 2010 is when Cloud started really becoming Cloud. And before that, was just vapor. So we saw the Cloud wave. And now we truly have the buzzword that we've just been talking about. How do you digitally transform your business, right?

So this is what keeps all of us going in search of something better, in search of how do we improve the experience, how do we move the bar higher, right?

Raj Sabhlok: Yeah. I think you're spot-on. Actually, I think the mega trend keeps IT transforming, right? It has to keep pace with the new technologies that are coming in the organization or the organization wants to bring in these new technologies, but unless you can, you know, get your infrastructure and your management tools in place, it's just not gonna happen. I could kind of draw the analogy of why go out and buy a brand new BMW 750 if you don't know how to drive, right, or if you're gonna crash and burn? And so the thinking there is you've got to get the fundamentals straight. And there's a maturity curve for organizations, as we've seen over the years. I like to think that some of the folks that are here today, I've seen over the years that their level of maturity has grown over the years.

But that's always gonna be this treadmill that they're on. They're always gonna be trying to reach for this elusive goal of having management completely under control, and accomplished.

Rajesh: Yes. So, it's interesting, the analogy you talked about. So I want to own a particular piece of car because everybody has it. It actually makes me exclusive to own it, but I don't know how to drive. It's when I'm looking to hire a chauffeur, to at least have this feeling of sitting inside that BMW, right? And this is what most businesses tend to do, right?

I want to have all the shiny new technologies, all these tools, sort of, put everything, pass the bug to a team called the IT Team to drive the whole thing for them, where the owners and the drivers are not really in sync. Right? Once they are in sync of where they are headed, what the journey is about, is when, as we talked about, all the business challenges, aligning IT to the business, as we say, happens really, really well.

Raj Sabhlok: Right. Right. That's a really good point. Because I think in some sense, you buy all these shiny new toys, these new technologies, and they're really looking still for a problem to solve. Right?

And the net result of that is if you don't have a clear vision of what technology you're bringing in and what problems you're trying to solve with that technology, you end up with under-utilization. The technology is not yielding the productivity that it could.

And furthermore, that's when we see isolation of technology, right? You randomly bring in all this technology and it doesn't connect well together. And they're not getting the productivity gains that they should. At least maybe kind of to the next point, if we think about an ideal state, even though we agree there is no ideal state, it's always evolving, I think automation is a pretty good aspirational goal for IT teams and that... I don't know what your thoughts are on automation and how important it could be and how go about it.

Rajesh: Absolutely. Right. So that is, in my observation, one of the top goals for the IT team, right? So how do you automate as much as you can, right? And one of the key things I've seen, at least in the last few years, especially in terms of software products, products that are like just 100% rigid products are not relevant anymore. So it used to be like that some time ago.

But there are three important traits that are extremely essential for any software would be this customizability, extensibility, and integration, right? That way, every piece of software today, should actually behave like a pseudo platform with the traits that I talked about because no two environments are the same, no two functions are the same, no two departments could use the same set of processes and procedures.

You need to have this low-code / no-code customization of software extensibility, in terms of tuning it to the way they want their processes, and also to integrate with all the other components in their infrastructure, could be legacy technology, could be shiny new Cloud technology. And that is what the IT teams, the businesses are looking at, which is exactly what vendors like us, a company like us, should be solving for them. And that's the route we are taking too.

Raj Sabhlok: Yeah. I think what you're alluding to is, for IT organizations and businesses in general, when they look at these software platforms that they're bringing in, that platform is really key.

Otherwise, you're buying technology and bringing in off-the-shelf technology that doesn't mirror your business, and your business processes, and workflows, and you really don't wanna go about changing your business to meet your software.

So another kind of talk about mega trends and talk about directionally where we're headed with IT, you talked about it in some of your discussions here at the conferences, AI. You know, what my observation is where a lot of the media has been talking about replacement of jobs, jobs going away. The folks here, the IT professionals here, seem to embrace new technologies like AI. Why do you think that is?

Rajesh: Actually, it's pretty trivial according to me, because I start an IT job, I pretty quickly become an expert on this. So it takes no effort. There is no new learning to do the same job over and over again, right? I want to keep moving up the value chain. I want to be more important. I want to work on more strategic things. And where AI brings automation today is where people have to do the same tasks over and over again, right? And this is why people are looking for such tools.

So even though we call AI, to me at least in IT and IT management domain, it's been a different form of interface to me, right? So you have this traditional browser-based GUI, through which people interface with software, that's been made more conversational, more contextual with the help of all these AI technologies. That is one. Number two, it is still automating only the routine tasks, where you don't apply any thought. And IT folks more and more are required to work to apply a lot of thought, right, because as we talk about these technologies, IT is not any longer about managing your on-premises infrastructure. Right?

The focus is more on protecting data. It's no longer about protecting a particular device or an application, because data is freely-flowing across boundaries, across applications, which is why IT folks want to sort of use these technologies, adopt these to sort of relieve them from having to do like routine tasks. That's what we've seen. Right?

So that's exactly what we are also doing in our company, all routine tasks left to automation, right, and people are like looking to really, really focus on more important strategic things.

Raj Sabhlok: Yeah. I think I'm in that camp as well. I believe that we have a problem in the U.S., maybe not in particular, but certainly, I see it here in the U.S. where I feel that there's a lack of engagement in many roles within organizations. Because of this idea, or basically, the fact that they are in these roles and they're having to do mundane tasks, tasks that could be consequential if there's errors done, and those are the things that can be automated.

It can put, in our case, IT professionals, on higher value items. You talked about data, providing insight to the organization is extremely valuable. And that's where they should be spending their time and I think that gets engagement back.

Rajesh: Absolutely. So, one of the key points right, so, we have always looked at IT organizations as providing back-end support, right? That is completely changing. So the chief information officer, they are becoming chief data officers, right or digital officers. What I actually mean, and what we observe, so the point I talked about actually managing data, you also talked about deriving insights, right? That's exactly the focus for the IT teams of today, right? Don't worry about devices. Don't worry about your infrastructure.

So I have many examples. I listen to many chief data officers presenting at the conference. So, one was a chief data officer of an airline. So they take on like specific goals, how to reduce the average delay of their flights. Right? So that used to be 50 minutes before and they worked with the goal of bringing it down to 20. And this team was formed by carving out of the existing IT team. This is what I mean by moving people out of routine tasks to do something more strategic, right?

Raj Sabhlok: Problem-solving.

Rajesh: Yeah, exactly. They have access to everything. They know how the processes work inside the company, what are the applications they have, where all the data is. Now, you just have to tell them, "You have a completely new mandate. You are not like working on these trivial things. But this is your mandate of reducing the average delay to 20 minutes from 50 minutes," right? This is transformation that we are talking about, nothing fancy, but define your goals clearly, get onto the job, deliver the results.

Raj Sabhlok: Yeah, yeah. I think most IT professionals will perk up when they see that presented as an opportunity in front of them. So we're talking about directionally where IT is going, what's the future of IT? We've touched on automation. That's gonna be pretty critical.

But also the fact that we're driven by mega trends. So we've talked about a couple of those, you know, Cloud, obviously, being one that as you said, started in 2010, in a big way, you know, a bigger way. And then AI. You also hit on another point, and that is IT alignment with business.

But also the fact that we're driven by mega trends. So we've talked about a couple of those, you know, Cloud, obviously, being one that as you said, started in 2010, in a big way, you know, a bigger way. And then AI. You also hit on another point, and that is IT alignment with business.

I see that happening more and more. In fact, from the conversations I'm having here with customers, I distinctly hear business goals and what they're trying to accomplish. And you and I have been in this industry for many, many years, right, our whole careers, and we've seen the relevance and importance of IT and IT professionals go up and down.

And there was a time in the past decade where we thought the relevance and importance of IT was diminishing. The decision-making was happening at the lines of business. But of course, we knew as IT professionals, there needed to be somebody that brings in an overarching support for technology. Security is a great reason, an example of why you need it. But to that point, I think we still have a ways to go in terms of making sure that alignment happens. And what's your thoughts on that and how can that be accomplished?

Rajesh: I absolutely agree with you, right? I'm going back to what I mentioned. So the first thing that the executive team should do is to tell IT that they are not in the backend anymore, right? So they are at the center of everything. Like I talked about, like how do you do data analytics? How do you bring more intelligence into how you do analytics to actually make a difference to your business? How do you build differentiation to your business? All of this is going to be possible only by applying technology to your current business model and your current challenges. And without IT having a good understanding of actually what their businesses, who their business customers are, what their market is, what is the competition doing, right?

This is absolutely, not going to happen. So they have to be in the middle of all the action, all the conversation, not just be left alone in a silo, right? I absolutely see that happening more and more and more.

Interestingly, yesterday at this conference, most of the conversations have been around IT really worrying about how this company is going to grow in terms of people, in terms of finding talent, in terms of how their budget would actually be spent on various things. Because they have a hand now in the operations of every department because every department today consumes some form of technology, right? So this alignment is happening naturally because IT is having to go talk to and sit with every function, every department, more and more and more.

Raj Sabhlok: Yeah, absolutely. I definitely see that most businesses are deploying new products and services that are technology-based, if not completely technology, right? So that's absolutely critical. You mentioned an interesting point about executive buy-in. I think there's a cultural aspect of growing the competency of IT and the use of technology.

You know, we at ManageEngine, Zoho Corp, use the word conviction a lot. Right? And in some sense, I think there needs to be this top-down conviction that we are gonna leverage technology, it can change our fortunes of our business if used well.

Rajesh: Absolutely. No, I'll use this adage, right? Business is like war and anything is fair in war and business, right? So if you are equating business to war, conviction is absolutely mandatory, right, for you to even be in business and like hope to succeed, absolutely agree with you. Yeah.

Raj Sabhlok: Well, great. It's been great catching up with you, Rajesh.

Rajesh: Anytime, that's my pleasure too.

Raj Sabhlok: It's been great hanging out at the conference and I hope here's two 9, 10, 15, more years of conferences.

Rajesh: I'm looking forward too. Thank you so much.

Raj Sabhlok: All right.

Rajesh: Cheers.

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