The autonomics market is in a state of flux, but 2015 stands to be a landmark year as enterprises increasingly realize significant benefits through the use of autonomic agents.
By Jeff Augustin
Autonomics promises to be a game changer for IT and business operations. In contrast to traditional automation technologies, autonomic tools use artificial intelligence to learn from experience, adapt, and respond to new conditions. These capabilities create the potential for digitizing a wide variety of tasks currently performed by skilled humans, such as a help desk or call center worker who is replaced by a cognitive agent such as Amelia.
Vendors such as IPsoft and BluePrism claim that autonomics will quickly drive personnel reductions of 30 to 40 percent for certain areas, with directly corresponding cost improvements. Real-world results and data, however, are limited. Moreover, the impact of autonomics varies significantly by enterprise and by service tower, and those variances have yet to be clearly defined or understood.
For client organizations, autonomics promises to yield significant gains in throughput and to grow capacity without additional staff. Service providers, meanwhile, can leverage autonomics to improve margins by replacing human engineers with virtual engineers. To date, however, clients haven't been aggressively pushing providers for autonomic solutions. And while many vendors are touting their autonomic capabilities, most have been relatively slow to integrate smart tools into their offerings. Barriers to adoption include upfront investment costs, time to integrate and the specter of potential disruption. Still, autonomics adoption has been less than one might expect.
That said, some service providers are beginning to wrap autonomics in their proposals, resulting in significantly reduced rates. Clients are signing on, but providers will bear the risk of unanticipated implementation and support issues, since the contracted rates are based on the largely untested assumption that the tools will deliver as promised. In other words, if problems with the tools arise, the onus is on the provider to absorb the additional cost. Regardless of how these early adopter risk-takers fare, these deals are already having an impact on market pricing, and the resulting competitive pressure is pushing more providers into the market fray.
What to Expect from Autonomics
Several factors affect the level of benefit an enterprise can expect to achieve from autonomics. Mature environments with established ITIL process management frameworks and high levels of automation already in place have laid the groundwork and are well-positioned to seamlessly implement autonomics in a smooth and natural progression. Ironically, at the other extreme, organizations characterized by myriad ad hoc and manual processes and low levels of governance maturity can use autonomics to replace existing operations. This leapfrog approach, however, will tend to be more disruptive and traumatic. Enterprises in the middle, meanwhile, have much to gain but will likely require time to implement new processes and achieve payback.
Autonomics benefits will also vary by service tower. IT infrastructure operations will see the most significant impact. The limited data currently available, which enable reasonably accurate ballpark estimates, show autonomics having a significant and immediate impact on functions related to service desk, incident management, and ticket handling. And while autonomics seems to have less impact on business process operations, at least on the short term, this will be the next frontier.
These variances suggest that autonomics benefits will vary, even as the market matures. As such, any upfront claims of quantitative benefits should be thoroughly vetted. Business cases, moreover, will have to be built on a case-by-case basis and take specific conditions into account.
The growth of autonomics has significant implications for the service provider market. Major multinational players that have seen increased competition from offshore providers could leverage autonomics to regain an edge. For the offshore firms, autonomics represents a significant change to the traditional labor arbitrage model by rendering the advantage of low-cost, skilled labor essentially obsolete through labor elimination. As a result, offshore firms have been largely hesitant to adopt autonomics. An early adoption strategy can mean improved provider margins on existing client contracts. Ultimately, however, clients will benefit through lower pricing for services.
While the autonomics market is currently in a state of uncertainty, 2015 stands to be a landmark year. Examples already exist of enterprises achieving rapid and significant benefits through headcount reductions. At the same time, there's a lack of insight regarding the pricing and operational impacts of purchasing, implementing and supporting autonomic tools. As innovative providers take the plunge and integrate autonomics solutions into their standard offerings, market prices will continue to drop and reluctant players will be forced to adopt in order to compete. In this environment, client and provider confidence should grow as autonomic deals gain traction. Success stories, coupled with more and better data, will enable more rigorous business cases and further drive momentum.
About the Author
Jeff Augustin is managing director with Alsbridge, a global consulting and advisory services firm.