By Chris Buchanan, Client Solutions Director Dell EMC South Africa
Futurists have long envisioned a brighter tomorrow, full of A.I. helpers and automated environments that run on the sound of our voice. Now that we stand on the edge of that reality, it’s time to realize what it requires of us to make this new world work. With immense possibilities on the horizon comes expanding responsibility. Businesses need to act now to transform their IT, workforce and security to stay ahead of the curve.
Recently, Dell Technologies teamed up with Institute for the Future to project into the next decades, and predict how emerging technologies – such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) – will reshape how we live and work by 2030. With those insights, we extended IFTF’s forecasts and surveyed 3,800 business leaders from around the world to gauge their predictions and preparedness for the future.
What companies will need
It is clear that companies need to change in order to reap the benefits of this new era. Many already are. According to the survey, more than half of the businesses interviewed will be investing in advanced AI and self-learning technologies. Converged infrastructure, which greatly reduces the burden on back-office systems, is attracting nearly as much attention, as are the emerging worlds of augmented and virtual reality.
Three other areas that attract the attention of most businesses are next-generation apps, ultra high-performance compute technologies such as all-flash, and new capabilities to accelerate applications. The business of the future is looking for increased performance, be it for insight, training or business applications. But don’t think this is a technology revolution...
What they need from people
In South Africa, there is great concern about the impact of automation on our employment situation. This is an uncomfortable reality that cannot be ignored. In such a light it may seem the above revelations are not good for people. But it’s quite the opposite: this is a people revolution and, if we address it correctly, it can help all humans.
Even our survey respondents don’t regard technology as leading the change. For example, despite all the talk of remote conferencing, 67% feel that face to face interaction will remain very important. Humans are overwhelmingly the secret ingredient to success: today’s businesses still value creative drive and logic as the most valued employee skills, something that remains unchanged even when looking at the future year of 2030.
But some things are changing. There will be a higher emphasis on emotional intelligence and technology literacy, finding space alongside traditional business skills such as project management and complex decision-making.
It is clear that the future depends on empowering people through technology.
Automation is a fact: a whopping 96% of respondents believe it will happen. Nor does it make sense to avoid. But instead of wondering about what jobs could be lost, we should explore the opportunities technologies bring to current and new roles. If done right, there will be work for everyone.
But then we must consider where the work won’t be. In business, the areas of inventory management, invoicing, troubleshooting, logistics and administration are considered prime candidates for automation. These are where jobs will disappear as new technologies take root.
The human edge will come from partnerships with machines. Humans and machines will work together as integrated teams - 26% already do and 30% expect it in two years. Take that view to five years and 82% of polled businesses expect to have human-machine integrated teams.
But business leaders are torn by what this means for their roles, their businesses and the world at large. 50% think automated systems will free up their time, while 42% believe they’ll have more job satisfaction in the future by offloading the tasks they don’t want to do to machines.
Supporting Your Workforce
Success will be determined by how a workforce is supported and initiated into this new world. Here there are still challenges, considering that 38% of companies struggle to change their workforce’s mindset and culture. More alarming is that 61% say their workforces are not ready yet, a number only slightly lower than businesses that lack a digital strategy. This suggests that companies are not strategically prepared for digital changes, so it’s no surprise they aren’t able to change gears on their cultures.
But there are some winning strategies. Of the companies that reported progress in their digital transformations, 53% have put policies and technologies in place to support a fully remote, flexible workforce, while 60% make customer journeys a boardroom concern. Other successful strategies include tasking senior leaders with spearheading digital change and aligning compensation, training and KPIs to a company’s digital goals and strategy.
Education and training are also major ingredients for success - and something that many employees seek to pursue on their own volition. Creating such opportunities is invaluable. Instead of forcing employees to upskill, give them the means to do so and they will. At least 54% of successful digital transformations involve teaching employees coding and software development. In today’s drag-and-drop/low code environments this is important, since even non-technical employees have the capacity to make meaningful changes to systems.
This is an interesting time for business: four separate generations are currently part of the employable population and they all should be brought along on the digital revolution. These employees, regardless of age, seem to thrive most when they are provided training in digital ways of working (54%) and equipped with the latest personal technology tools (54%).
A future with AI systems and automation is not a threat to workers, not if companies invest in training and facilitating them, as well as provide the right digital tools for their jobs. This can’t be divorced from a company’s need to digitally transform - and it is imperative if organisations expect to remain competitive. So as we prepare for the future of work, we must remember that the change begins not with technology or processes, but with our people.