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Can SaaS And AI Enable A One-Person IT Department?

Posted by Neil Sheppard on May 2, 2024
Can SaaS And AI Enable A One-Person IT Department?

With the rise of tools like AI and SaaS, IT infrastructures are becoming more autonomous. We explore whether this could eventually render your IT team obsolete.

Technology is constantly evolving the set-up of IT departments across all industries. From early IT technicians creating punch cards or reeling magnetic tape, to the evolving field of artificial intelligence (AI) prompt engineering, we've come a long way.

The trend over time is for increasing automation. Whereas primitive computers would need to be told exactly what, when, and how to carry out processes, modern systems are almost completely autonomous.

Of course, we all know that computers still require oversight. Even humans need a second opinion on occasion, and machines are even less capable of self-diagnosing errors than we are, so proper governance is vital.

The question we should now be asking ourselves, however, is: when will technology advance so far that the required oversight can be carried out by just one person? Could we already be living in an age where all you need is a modern tech stack and a CTO and you're ready to go?

Let's dive deeper to find out the value of a modern IT team, but in the meantime, determine how much human support your IT tools need by making an application rationalization assessment using LeanIX:

USE CASE: Application Rationalization

The Rise Of Solopreneurs

San Francisco-based web entrepreneur, Wenbin Fang single-handedly built and runs Listen Notes, a podcast search engine service. In a blog, he describes using Amazon Web Services (AWS) to host a Django and Python-based back-end and a front-end built using various tools such as React and Webpack.

Self-described "solopreneur" Anthony Simon, meanwhile, founded and sold web analytics firm, Panelbear, without additional staff. In his own blog, he goes into detail about using Kubernetes and Rails to create a monolithic stack, again hosted in AWS.

It's clear that it is entirely possible for one person to build and run a software-as-a-service (SaaS) start-up alone, including the IT, but on a larger scale, things become more challenging. The more people in your organization, the more effort you need to put in to communicate with all of those employees and get them all on the same page.

Likewise, traditional IT teams need to spend time setting up all those new employees with their computing technology and train them in the use of those applications. Not to mention, the larger your organization, the more systems and applications that you'll need to get by.

Yet, as younger, tech-savvy generations move up into the workforce and hardware and software toolsets become more and more user-friendly, your people need less help with tech. You'll likely find Gen Z informing you about SaaS tools you may never have heard of that they're already using.

Advanced dashboard tools and enterprise architecture management platforms like LeanIX can also monitor your IT landscape and SaaS applications from a single interface. With all of this technology and trained and experienced employees, you could potentially get by with much less IT resource than you once needed.

No-code and low-code tools can even allow non-technical users to build and configure software systems with drag-and-drop interfaces. This means any user in your organization can create and customize their own software toolsets.

When you add in the potential of large language models (LLM) and other generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools to read and generate documentation, and other AI tools to take action autonomously, we may soon find that we don't need IT support at all to run our tech landscapes. Why, then, do we say that we still need humans?

Why You Still Need Human Oversight

Autonomous IT systems are notoriously troublesome in that they don't necessarily know when they're making mistakes. When things are going wrong, autonomous systems may simply continue making the same error over and over again until someone stops them.

Law firm Levidow, Levidow, and Oberman was recently punished by a Manhattan district court for accidentally using legal precedents in their cases that had been invented by ChatGPT. Meanwhile, Microsoft News published an article generated by artificial intelligence (AI) that listed a charity food bank as a popular tourist hotspot.

More concerningly, real-estate company Zillow bet big on the ability of an AI algorithm to make large-scale decisions on what property to acquire for resale. The result saw Zillow take a USD 300-million write-down in Q3, 2021, leading to a stock plunge and 25% lay-offs.

It's clear that automated tools need human guardrails to ensure they drive success, rather than hamper it. Yet, it doesn't take a full team of people to keep an eye on what an AI tool is doing and call a stop if things are going wrong.

So, could one person really run your entire IT function? What would that look like?

How One Person Could Replace An Entire IT Team

“Every business is a software business”

Watts S Humphrey, the "father of software quality", Winning With Software: An Executive Strategy (2001)

READ: Is Every Company Really A Software Company Now?

At the turn of the century, software engineering expert Watts S Humphreys argued that every company, in every industry, was really a software vendor in the modern age. If this is true, then we can say that every employee should perhaps be a software developer.

Currently, your CTO or CIO will oversee the output and budget of your IT team's activities. If business-led IT is seeing tech-savvy users managing their own technology through their own budgets, and robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) are running all your IT functions, then your IT leader can simply oversee that activity in the same way without the need for an IT team.

With established and onboarded processes, a single person can oversee a dashboard of your operations, but otherwise allow your technology to do the work. Any setup work or additional tools that need to be made could be built by any user leveraging no-code or generative AI platforms.

In this way, your entire company would be your IT team, and you would only require a single leader to represent this aspect of your work to your board. Even if this set up wasn't possible today, it could soon be as all this technology develops.

The question remains, however: what happens when you need to change your IT landscape? Business transformation is increasingly key, so can one person manage a transformation?

What Could Go Wrong With A One-Person IT Team

Any experienced enterprise architect can, of course, tell you what could go wrong with the theoretical one-person IT team described above. With everyone buying or building their own IT tools, your IT landscape will rapidly descend into chaos, and more importantly, your toolset will quickly go out of date.

We often say that technology and application modernization reduces support needs and frees up your IT team's time to focus on more-important work. That more important work is the process of continual business and technology transformation to keep your organization at pace with the market.

Without updated tools, your organization risks falling behind and loses its competitive edge. While a single person could, with the right technology, run your entire IT function single-handed, they wouldn't be able to complete a full transformation initiative without support.

You could, potentially, outsource a single transformation initiative as a one-off, but technology is moving at such a pace that transformation is a constant requirement. Continuous transformation is now a cultural fixture of enterprise and it's always going to be more cost-effective to bring this in-house as an ongoing function.

Without dedicated IT and enterprise architecture teams driving innovation, your organization will face technological stagnation and struggle to compete. This is now the function of your IT teams, as technology becomes increasingly self-sustaining.

Therefore, even self-sustaining technology run by tech-savvy users cannot replace the true function of your IT team. A one-person IT team is an ambitious theoretical, but isn't sufficient to drive the real purpose of IT: continuous technology transformation.

However, as a thought exercise, the model of the one-person IT team can show you that you may be expending effort in the wrong area. If you lean more on your employees and self-sustaining automation, you may be able to free up resource to drive greater innovation.

Understanding Your IT Support Needs

The key here is to understand just how much resource your IT landscape needs to support itself. You need clarity on which of your applications and hardware your team can manage themselves and which needs your IT team to operate.

You also need to know which of your applications can be readily replaced by self-sustaining technology or user-friendly software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. This requires complete clarity on your application portfolio and technology landscape.

This allows you to free up as much IT resource as possible in order to, not reduce your IT function to one person, but to divert it towards driving innovation and continuous transformation. To gain the necessary clarity to understand where you can do so, you need the LeanIX solution toolset to map your IT landscape for you.

To find out more about what LeanIX can do to optimize your IT resources for innovation, book a demo:

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