The past two centuries have seen four industrial revolutions that impacted the socio –economic climate back in the day. These cataclysmic events also changed people’s lives in more ways than one. With Industry 4.0 focused on the digital revolution, we are witnessing a leapfrogging of countries, businesses and people to a more sophisticated state of development.
While the pace of adoption in Industry 3.0 took about a decade with the advent of computers, technology adoption in the current era is at a much faster pace and becoming a global phenomenon within months. Industry 4.0 is changing workspaces, workforces and the nature of work itself.
So what is causing the future of work to be different today? How are businesses going to transform?
In the future of work, organisations are being forced to evolve yet again, and redefine their workspaces. Most importantly, we have a new kind of workforce that is emerging. Organizations are having to pave the way for this new collaborative nature of work sooner rather than later.
Take Artificial Intelligence (AI) for instance; businesses are finding that workforces that embrace more technology like AI etc. in their functioning, are having a positive impact on productivity.
A technology like AI can do mundane, repetitive tasks which employees anyway do not enjoy doing. So AI will only replace tasks and not an entire job and be an assistance to man for its incredible speed and accuracy. For example, if a recruiter is tasked with screening 3000-4000 resumes to then pass on shortlisted ones to the interviewer, he or she will take a very long time to complete the task. Whereas if Artificial Intelligence can be put to use to filter from these 3000 + resumes to pick 30 resumes for the interview stage, based on historical data or data fed in, the task will be completed much faster and with precision. So the job of the recruiter whose task was to screen the resumes is not going to be replaced – only his task of screening can be, by AI. So AI frees up his or her time to focus on other more important tasks in the same timeframe increasing his/her productivity level.
Organizations need to foster this harmonious co-existence to change the ‘man versus machine’ mindset amongst the workforce. Man needs to learn to be comfortable co-existing with machines or devices. Organizations are collecting massive amounts of data about people – their demographics and customer interactions and even from machines or assets. It is humanly impossible to analyze the tons of data generated every day from machines, devices and applications. Humans do not have the capability to analyze all this data and hence are dependent on new tech to do so. The days of greater and quicker business and work decisions being done with more technical assistance like AI, is not far away.
The pace of change by organizations is constrained by the willingness to change and the ability to change.
The Challenge of the Future of Work in India
Artificial intelligence is likely to affect us in all walks of life. Currently, use cases are few and far between in the India context. India is unique due to its huge population. Therefore most organizations in India are slowly joining the AI journey with cautious optimism. It is possible that in the short term all the low and high-end skills in India are not going to be really impacted because of artificial intelligence. Enterprises need to evaluate the business perspective before taking the plunge into any major AI project. Some verticals like healthcare, recruitment, retail spaces, or a service space are seeing AI implementation now. So in the next five or 10 years, there is a good probability of a lot of the Indian business landscape seeing change with the adoption of artificial intelligence.
What has changed in the Technology space?
The advent of Cloud computing and analyzing data has altered the technology landscape for organizations. Cloud computing platforms like – AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Big Query are enabling two critical technology aspects today.
1. Storage – Massive amounts of data that can be stored and made accessible all at once. 2. The sheer processing capacity of diverse data sets with multiple super computers processing the data all at once - that sort of computing power was not available earlier to organizations – that’s why AI has taken off in a big way.
Taking a look at what Cloud has enabled – in the past if you had to work with a lot of data, the first challenge was - to work with the data for which you needed to know how to architect the data. A data stream had to be built before creating an algorithm to meaningfully process and interpret the data to make predictions using that data.
Today what’s happened with the cloud is that you don’t have to necessarily park the data in a certain format. It is much easier to migrate the data to the cloud, regardless of how disaggregated the data itself originally is - cloud enables companies to be able to interrelate and correlate that data together and then process it well.
What is going to change in the Future of Work? What is the opportunity for organizations?
Data is the new oil. Or the new gold. However data is spread across the organization in silos, making data analysis difficult. AI will give healthy and reliable information to bank on to take faster decisions. So the main benefit of Artificial intelligence is that it will help management in making data driven decisions, backed by quite a lot of historical data, where the Intellectual Property (IP) is data.
Workforce changes need to be deployed. Flatter hierarchies will become the order of the day. Employment contracts are changing as organizations get into collaborative methods of working with people. Work processes need re-structuring – with more of an outcome based approach as opposed to the work to be done. This allows for individual flexibility to fit into the workforce by working part time/ full time/ project based, workplace based, telecommuting etc.
Reskilling/Upskilling is necessary to be part of the digital revolution. Organizations need to invest in upskilling their top performers. Employees also need to take the initiative to re-skill to stay relevant and employed.
Again, it depends on the size of the company you are in. For a small cap company, it is very difficult to have the whole team up-skilled at your cost because there are so many technologies involved. You may not be in a position to have all the skills in AI, calling for a recalibration of ideas or a mindset. It isn’t really feasible to add all the skilled resources that may be required for an organization’s workforce. If your organization can do the initial thinking and designing then execution can be through multiple ecosystems through the right partnerships and a good working model.
Having a good governance model will ensure the desired delivery as per quality. Suitable review mechanisms need to be in place at the stakeholder level, the sponsor level and the business process owner’s level. Checks and balances are a must when working in an interconnected model.
How will organizations transform their businesses through technology?
It is about aligning the adoption of the right technology for your organization with the organization’s vision and mission and whether the expected return on investment is being attained.
Rather than jumping directly onto the AI bandwagon, the first call on taking the AI journey is for a CEO to understand the AI solution and evaluate whether machine learning, introducing a chat bot or having an RPA will benefit the company in terms of growing the company or fulfilling KPIs.
If greater than 60% of the tasks are automatable, then the job for the human gets eliminated. So you have a scenario where people working with technology thrive, while those in the lower end with mundane jobs, will become redundant. They will have to upskill to stay employed or leave the organization. So employees also need to gear up and be positive about this co-existence which will really enhance the way things are done.
So these are the few parameters to be considered before deciding to move on to AI in terms of taking a top level decision.
What should businesses do to take these challenges head on?
There are 2 ways to approach the adoption of technology as envisaged by Cap Gemini in their Digital mastery framework. As per the framework, organizations should progress on two dimensions to be digital masters.
A) Digital capabilities – are the use of technology to change how the company interacts with customers, operates internal processes, or defines its business model. This is about knowing where and how to invest in building digital ability and using it smartly to transform the business.
B) Leadership capability – are about creating the necessary conditions required to drive the transformation. They included the transformation vision, the governance model to lead the journey, the necessary information technology and business relationships to produce the results, and engaging employees in the journey.
Setting up a strong coordination and governance model – like a digital center of excellence, appointing a Chief Digital Officer to oversee a steering committee for digital transformation is an imperative.
For organizations to make a success in the future of work, a top down leadership approach for envisioning the digital transformation of the organization down to actual execution across the organization would be the right step forward.