As digital systems become too complex to manage efficiently, autonomics brings simplicity and order with intelligent automation.
The enterprise space has been on a multi-decade sprint to implement as many digital solutions as possible in order to optimize and automate their operations. While this strategy has resulted in unprecedented growth, it’s also brought about expansive digital systems that have grown too complex for a purely human workforce to manage on its own. Ironically, implementing so many solutions to boost efficiencies has brought about a level of inefficiency. The good news is that while technology is the cause of this systemic unwieldiness, it also offers a solution in the form of autonomics.
In the context of IT management, autonomics refers to self-managing technologies that operate independently of direct human oversight to perform activities within a complex system. This means humans need only provide general top-level guidance, and the system will handle the workload independently. A very basic example would be a building manager instructing an HVAC system to set each floor to 68 degrees. The system then routinely monitors each floor’s temperature and turn on the heat or AC accordingly.
This automation of tasks becomes more interesting, however, when paired with artificial intelligence (AI) that allows a system to intelligently adapt to novel situations and improve over time through observation. To further the above HVAC example, autonomic AI would “know” to pump extra cooling to a particular floor 15 minutes before the start of a large, office-wide meeting where many people will be crammed into a small space.
The important part of autonomics is that human mediation is removed from the execution of complex tasks – all humans have to do is set the goal.
Inspired by living systems, fueled by artificial ones
Autonomic technology takes its inspiration and name from the autonomic nervous systems in the human body which works subconsciously to regulate bodily functions. This biological automation frees us from spending all our mental energy managing every aspect of our bodies (e.g. our hearts manage to pump 80 times a minute without us thinking about it) and will even adapt accordingly (e.g. in a state of panic, our hearts automatically begin to pump more to adapt our bodies for a fight-or-flight response).
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Just as a biological autonomic system optimize functions in a complex living system, autonomic AI can do the same within a digital one. For example, in a previous technological era, a new hire at a company might require several onboarding steps across numerous departments – such as setting up a phone line, issuing a new work device, or setting-up payroll, etc.. An HR system with autonomic functionality would automate these complex actions in a single command. With AI, that system is able to adapt to variation, e.g. if it noticed that the hire commuted in from a different state, it might set them up with a tax withholding form for that state instead of where the office was located. This flexibility can be pre-programmed, or machine learning could help the system learn how to handle this novel task over time (e.g. if the system observed commuters asking for different tax forms, it can adapt its procedures in response).
Autonomic AI systems include characteristics and examples such as:
- Self-configuration – A new business laptop would automatically download necessary software along with necessary network permissions already in place;
- Self-healing – A unified communications system could discover a phone outage and automatically reroute the network);
- Self-optimization – If an AI anticipates a spike in demand for a web service, it could allocate appropriate server resources); and
- Self-protection – A system can dynamically repel cyber attacks.
Implementing autonomic AI systems delivers high levels of functionality far more efficiently than an “analog” system could ever deliver on its own while freeing humans from high-volume tasks in order to deal with unique or complex problem-solving. Autonomics already are in wide use among global enterprises, as corporate leaders recognize autonomics place in the future of business.