Several years ago, I was reassigned to a task force focused on improving the speed of closure for our company’s internal technical help desk service tickets. A team leader and four direct reports were responsible for monitoring these tickets, following up with the person assigned, determining what was holding up completion of the ticket, and, if needed, bringing in additional resources to speed up the closure of the ticket. Each week, our team leader would provide us with paper reports that contained the current aging information by system type, and we would follow up with triage calls to the assigned technical resource and then troubleshoot the problem.

It soon became clear that many of the oldest tickets had been resolved but never marked as such in the system, or they had simply been overlooked or forgotten. I created an email template that I used to email those assigned to the tickets. I hoped that this prompt would be enough to have them close tickets that were no longer open. My team leader wasn’t excited with this approach, believing that calling people on the phone was better, but the emails helped me clear a good percentage of tickets and cut down on the overall time I needed to do the job.

As the task force continued its work, I wrote a program that accessed the ticket system database and automatically generated a report of all past-due tickets and emailed the report to the responsible parties. As other task force team members were reassigned to more permanent work, I added their work queues to my email reports. By the time the task force was disbanded, I was able to work full-time on my new job and monitor the ticket aging process “off the side of my desk” in an hour or two a week by making phone calls to those who didn’t respond to my emails. What had taken the five of us 40 hours a week to complete had now been substantially reduced by simple automation.

What about all of those on the receiving end of the auto-generated emails? Other than being reminded to attend to their tasks, they still required the same amount of effort as before to get work done, but the use of artificial intelligence (AI) could significantly impact these types of knowledge-based jobs. The database that I accessed also contained the resolution to every help desk ticket that had been submitted in the company for years. An AI system could ingest this information, as well as additional systems manuals and other internal technical documentation, and suggest possible resolutions to each ticket.

Better yet, an AI system could be built directly into the ticket call system to receive the initial help request and resolve the issue instantly without the need for human intervention. This would mean a reduction in the use of technical and human resources as well as improved productivity for the person reporting a technical incident and opening the ticket. Using a front-end “robot” with natural language capabilities, most of the call center jobs could be eliminated, and the jobs of the back-end technical specialists that these tickets are escalated to could also be reduced. As AI is implemented over the coming years, it could potentially replace many existing jobs.

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In the past when jobs were replaced by automation or a new technology, other jobs always sprang up to take their place. In the 1970s, for example, it was thought that the advent of ATMs would eliminate many bank teller jobs and increase back-office technology jobs. When many bank teller jobs were eliminated at individual bank locations, it became cheaper to run a single location, so the number of locations increased, which drove up the total number of bank tellers overall and created new technology jobs. As individual banks reduced traditional teller positions, new hybrid positions were created that required more marketing, customer relationship, problem-solving, and sales management skills than the jobs that they replaced. Today, bank teller positions are again threatened by new technologies—AI, this time—and predicted to decline, leading to further reskilling of the role.

In accounting, the advent of AI and other technologies (see “Advances in Technology”) also threatens to reduce the number of jobs in the profession. But like the bank teller jobs of the 1970s, accountants with advanced business, relationship management, and technology skills will experience an increased demand. The challenge is that advances in technology are evolving much faster now, so each of us needs to continually anticipate the automation of components of our jobs and evaluate our career paths to see where we’re vulnerable. The internet has a wealth of knowledge to help us with this through professional associations and specialized university programs offered both online and at brick-and-mortar locations. No, it isn’t easy keeping a job in the 21st Century, but it can be rewarding if we’re aware of the trends and continue learning to stay ahead of them. May you successfully automate and “eliminate your job” many times during your career!

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