How IT broke free of the break-fix paradigm

In the early days of your IT career, calls like this were probably common: “Hi, my computer/mouse/keyboard/printer is broken. Can you fix it? I’m on deadline, so the sooner the better.”

Welcome to the “break-fix” world of the old-school IT staffer—the one responsible for fighting against an avalanche of help-desk tickets. In that role, you were expected to maintain your sanity while running someone through reinstalling Windows for the fifth time and remain civil during conversations such as the following:

User: “My computer screen is all black.”

IT worker: “Hmmm, okay. Sorry, but I have to ask you this: Have you checked if the computer is turned on and the plugs are pushed into their sockets?”

User: “Of course, it’s turned on! Do you think I would forget to—actually, wait a second . . .”

[Long awkward pause; sounds of under-the-desk fumbling]

User: “Um, yeah, I’ve managed to sort this one out myself, so don’t worry about it.”

IT worker: “No problem, don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can help you out in the future.”

Moving away from the break-fix mentality

Granted, the break-fix scenario described above is not unfamiliar to today’s IT support staff, but believe it or not, the relentless march of progress means you’re likely spending less time undertaking low-value tasks. Part of the reason is that organisations are increasingly expecting management to, firstly, supply reliable products and, secondly, take responsibility for replacing or repairing gear that acts up.

Take, for example, the classic case of a printer breakdown. In the old days, an office printer that went on the fritz would usually be the IT department’s headache, especially if it was out of warranty. Nowadays, printers are less likely to break down in the first place: Leading printer manufacturers are designing more efficient machines with fewer parts to minimise the need for repairs and replacements.

In 2018, it’s also more likely a company has a managed services arrangement in place, even at midsize and smaller companies. Global projections for the managed services market forecast growth from US$152.45 billion in 2017 to US$257.84 billion by 2022.

Entering a new dawn of IT innovation

As beneficial as tech companies taking increased responsibility for their products’ performance has been, you can also thank leaps in IT innovation for helping your ascendance from run-of-the-mill office mechanics to more respected IT experts. This elevated status and more interesting workdays are partially the results of three great technological leaps:

  1. Artificial intelligence has evolved human work. Stephen Hawking called it “either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity,” but anyone who’s manned a help desk is likely to say it’s the former. AI is changing everything, and it’s reached an inflection point—in Australia, for instance, the national income could experience a $2.2 trillion boost by 2030 thanks to AI productivity gains. By 2020, 85 percent of all customer interactions will be handled without a human agent. For all but the most devilish IT dilemmas, befuddled employees will soon be able to turn to Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, or one of their even more powerful descendants. That’s right, your company’s IT help desk could soon be staffed by chatbot-utilising conversational user interfaces, natural language recognition, and learning/pattern recognition.
  2. Computing has evaporated into the cloud. Like AI, cloud computing is radically changing how IT professionals work. Research and advisory firm 451 Research predicts that 60 percent of IT workloads will run in the cloud by 2019 and notes that most enterprises are now choosing to house new business applications and services there. According to McKinsey, large businesses are expected to move workloads to the cloud at a faster rate than in the past, as will midsize companies, albeit to a lesser degree. One of the drivers powering the widespread uptake of cloud services is the desire to lighten the load of in-house IT departments.
  3. 3D (and 4D) printers can create literally anything. 3D printing is no longer just a sci-fi dream—it’s a reality, and it’s transforming industries around the world. But what’s the next step for 3D printing? A little innovation called 4D printing, which allows you to program 3D-printed solid components to change into other shapes once exposed to specific environmental conditions, such as light or humidity. The fourth dimension is transformation over time. For an industry like manufacturing, this has been and will continue to be a game changer. When you can do things like 4D print an airplane wing that transforms into an aerodynamic shape when it hits a certain speed, the possibilities become truly endless.

At this point, you might feel like a buggy maker observing the first Model Ts rolling off the production line. IT workers—like just about every other type of worker—can expect to have the routine parts of their jobs automated away. But, rest assured, there will be plenty of higher-value, more strategic and collaborative tasks(particularly ones requiring uniquely human qualities, such as emotional intelligence) to keep you in a job as the fourth industrial revolution continues to gather pace. The role of the IT staffer is changing—but it’s changing for the better.