Information technology is shaping the future of work across all industries.
One of the themes that has been evident in our series exploring how different industries are going to develop in the future – from agriculture and business to healthcare, and environmental management – is that in each of them technology is going to play an increasingly important role.
And information technology (IT) – whether directly or by providing the software and applications for other technologies to function – is key to that development.
We sat down with two of Charles Sturt University’s expert academics in the field to discuss how the uses and adaptations of IT, as well as the skills needed by professionals in the field, are likely to change in the coming decades.
Information technology is a part of everyone’s lives
Ms Maumita Bhattacharya, a lecturer in information technology at Charles Sturt University, explained the sheer prevalence of IT today and in the future.
“Nearly everyone, regardless of their profession, is using IT. So most people need to be tech-savvy to some degree in order to perform their role. Not everyone, of course, will need high-level IT skills, but this prevalence of IT in the workplace will mean that there will need to be lots of skilled people to manage the technological systems other people will use.
If we want a progressive, advanced and secure Australia, we will need many skilled professionals. We will need software developers to put new knowledge into action in all sorts of industries. And we will also need data engineers, data analysts and data scientists to manage, analyse and interpret the data for use in every field, from healthcare to agriculture to urban development. To secure information assets and information infrastructure, we will need cybersecurity experts to prepare detection and prevention mechanisms, to react to IT security breaches and so on breaches.”
Another Charles Sturt lecturer in IT, Ms Joanne Parker, agrees that the application of IT is very extensive – and will continue to be so.
“If you look at almost any workplace – or almost any facet of your life, from phones and games to the Internet of Things – we are using information technology all the time. IT is also important in future developments like robotics and automation, and the capacity for that will grow. Driverless cars, for example, look like they will become more prevalent (perhaps within the next five to 10 years in Australia), but that requires a lot of technological infrastructure and systems – from communication between cars and traffic infrastructure to how CBDs are set up to manage the traffic flow of driverless cars. That all needs to be built and managed by professionals.”
An increasing range of applications
Ms Bhattacharya sees IT as a key component in the progress of the country in the future.
“At a national level, in the future Australia will want better national security, better management of natural resources, accommodation options, better healthcare accessible to all inhabitants regardless of where they live, increased productivity in agriculture – all these things, and many more, can be enhanced by information technology.
“For instance, an aged care home in a remote town; there might not be access to sufficient medical care. We can equip a “smart” home with artificial intelligence, so that health monitoring can be done remotely, such as space sensors that can detect areas where a person should be seated, vertical or horizontal, and transmit a warning if those states are not correct, such as someone has had a fall. Also, as with wearable technologies now, devices can be used to monitor key physiological conditions and transmit alerts to healthcare providers if irregularities occur.
“Or how about agriculture of the future? Information and communication technologies are rapidly redefining the agricultural landscape and role of farmers in the digital era. Cross-disciplinary research involving software engineering, data analytics, farm management, climatology and phenomics will assist farmers with cropping decisions, forecasting crop yields and managing farms in the most cost effective and sustainable way.”
Seizing future opportunities
With IT becoming embedded in industries, not just nationally but across the world, change will undoubtedly continue across the professional spectrum. Ms Bhattacharya sees this as a chance for people to innovate and lead the development of progressive systems of production, communication and information.
“Information technology and artificial intelligence are playing an increasingly important role in automation. While extensive automation will have an impact on the job landscape, there will be new opportunities for qualified people to develop the technology and systems that generate and manage automated systems. In Australia, the mining sector is increasingly getting benefits from automation, from efficiency, precision and safety points of view. Even some low-level IT services are being automated, so increasing skill level is required within the industry to thrive.
“More and more we are moving towards a connected society, globally, which is the main driver of progress. So we need to embrace it, but it of course raises information security issues, which we will need trained professionals to manage. And the nature of a globally connected society and the very nature of information technology means that if we do not embrace the possibilities, these functions can be and will be done by people in other countries.”
Ms Parker sees these sorts of developments – and those yet to come or perhaps even be conceived of – as creating a vibrant future for IT professionals.
“Working in information technology means that your career can take you across many industries, with a range of possible roles – from project management to network engineering, cybersecurity, marketing, programming and so on. And the diversity of information technology applications means that there is the potential for you to change roles during your career and grow your professional experience, if you wish. You need a solid foundation in the theories and principles of information technology, but upskilling will be increasingly important as the rate of change and innovation increases. The ‘syntax’ of IT is likely to remain fairly similar, but their application is likely to evolve considerably, and professionals will need to stay on top of them.
“But it’s exciting as we don’t know what will be down the track in twenty years’ time, but people will innovate and invent new things all the time. If you have ideas – from apps and animation to agriculture, even to advocacy regarding legislation – there will be opportunities to push knowledge forward. There’s such a diverse range of roles that IT professionals could do, areas that people coming into IT for the first time might not even think of at first.”
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Maumita Bhattacharya is a lecturer in information technology at Charles Sturt University. Her primary research interests are engineering and applications of natural computation, machine intelligence and data mining techniques, and information security.
Joanne Parker is a lecturer in information technology at Charles Sturt University. Her research interests include virtual communities, IT project management and the enhancement of learning and teaching.