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Self-learning robots appearing at a business near you, soon

Steve Rogerson
June 16, 2016
Fully autonomous self-learning robots will be functioning independently within a business setting in less than three years, according to a quarter of IT decision makers, and a further third believe this will happen within ten years.
This is one of the results from a survey from Massachusetts-based IT management software company Ipswitch, and carried out by analyst firm Freeform Dynamics.
The survey examined the attitudes and readiness of IT decision makers with regard to intelligent machines and business systems – machines with decision making and learning capabilities. Exploring the fast-paced adoption of these systems, the report looked at the positive impacts already being observed in the commercial world and the potential barriers to even further mainstream adoption over the next decade.
According to the research, investment in intelligent business systems and automation is well underway across the globe. Top current application deployment areas cited by respondents include digital customer engagement systems (55%), process automation and workflow systems (52%), and automated risk monitoring and management (50%). The research further revealed that:

  • 45% had adopted intelligent IoT platforms and services, with 34% saying these technologies were on the agenda
  • 42% were using autonomous apps and bots, and 32% said they planned to do so
  • 45% were using cognitive computing and inference engines and a further 30% were looking to deploy in the near future
  • 40% were using complex event processing (CEP) technology and a further 34% planned to soon
Despite the speed of adoption, the study revealed that IT decision makers were finding it difficult to assess the full extent of the risks, challenges and threats posed by intelligent business systems. Security concerns (33%), funding constraints (30%) and lack of knowledge (24%) were all identified as areas of worry and named as primary obstacles to adoption and use.
To give one example, a fifth of respondents said increased noise on the network was making it harder to detect malicious activity, with automated bot access to APIs causing system and application issues and creating unexpected security exposures.
When questioned further, more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents confessed their current network security and access management capabilities were already inadequate or needed strengthening to cope with new intelligent machines, while 72% revealed network traffic monitoring and analysis capabilities also required reinforcing. Also, 72% of respondents said the same applied to their file and document level security and access management systems and protocols.
Looking to the future, the survey revealed IT professionals were also concerned about how to counter the potential impact of intelligent systems activity – including external third party bots, agents and internet-connected things – on enterprise networks and infrastructures.
“Organisations are harnessing the transformative powers of intelligent systems to gain competitive advantage,” said Tony Lock, distinguished analyst at Freeform Dynamics. “But IT decision makers recognise that, while a force for good, these technologies also expose the enterprise to new internal and external risk vectors. As the pace of adoption increases, there will be no escaping the impact of intelligent systems on the enterprise – regardless of whether or not organisations directly invest in such technologies.”
The research also highlighted the impact of intelligent systems was being felt right now in the enterprise environment, with IT professionals braced for further challenges:
  • A quarter expected fully autonomous self-learning robots to be functioning independently within a business setting in less than three years, with a further third saying this will happen within ten years
  • Rogue decision-making resulting in direct commercial damage and an over reliance on machines, ultimately leading to complacency, were cited as current or future concerns that needed addressing; one fifth of respondents confirmed a lack of human oversight and de-skilling, to the point where no one in the IT team understood the logic or processes underpinning systems, was a problem today
  • 76% believed intelligent systems would remove drudgery from IT operations, while just 32% were concerned they may eventually put them out of a job
“IT professionals should approach intelligent machines with their eyes wide open,” said Michael Hack, SVP of at Ipswitch. “As network managers grow more confident with intelligent systems, they will become increasingly willing to tackle more complex applications. However, they need to ensure they have the right tools in place to enable intelligent systems and support the IT team to manage the impact of internal and external intelligent automation effectively.”
Sponsored by Ipswitch and designed and executed by Freeform Dynamics, the online survey was conducted with 521 IT decision makers in the USA, the UK, Germany, France, Australia and Singapore to ascertain the current adoption and use of intelligent systems within their organisation. Respondents were drawn from organisations ranging in size from 100 to more than 5000 employees and operating in a range of vertical markets – financial services, manufacturing, healthcare, retail, high tech, telco, research and education, pharma and public services.