Business leaders constantly think about how they can transform their companies to become more lean, agile and innovative. Today, business is driven by customers who are the new focal point. Customers demand better experiences and innovative products. A business will be able to comply only by embracing emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, deep learning, Blockchain, sensors and Internet of Things. These technologies will be common in the future workplace, which will have humans and machines coordinating with each other, exchanging information and working synergistically towards a common goal. At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting at Davos earlier this year, some argued that automation and AI pose an existential threat. But there was also talk about opportunities. Here are some real-life examples of humans working alongside machines in perfect harmony.
The Amazon Go in February this year caught the attention of the retail industry. It is a concept of the cashier-less store, devoid of POS machines and checkout operators. People walk into the store, pick up what they need, and head straight for the exit, without the need to stand in long checkout lines. The store relies heavily on cameras, image recognition, AI and sensors – technology to track who is shopping and what they buy. As shoppers walk out of the store, the transaction is completed with payment made through an app.
‘Of the 1,200 senior executives surveyed, 72% said that intelligent technology will be critical to their organisation’s market differentiation and 61% felt the share of roles requiring collaboration with AI will rise in the next three years’
While checkout and cashier staff might become a rare sight at stores that adopt this concept, there is also an opportunity to create new kinds of jobs. People will be required to sort, tag and check labels on merchandise – or to restock shelves and check inventories. There will be jobs for people who manufacture or repair the cameras and sensors used in the store. These jobs will require new kinds of skills. People would need to work more closely with intelligent machines. And that’s why they need to reskill.
Here’s another example. Soon robots will assist doctors with surgeries. For instance, a doctor at a remote location could direct a surgical robot to perform an open-heart surgery. But the approaches, options and decisions will be left to the experience and wisdom of the doctor – not the robot. Machines are good at doing (repetitive) tasks with speed, precision and accuracy. But machines are not very good at responding to unknown situations or making judgements. That part will be left to humans. Hence the need for both humans and machines.
In the future, human workers will interact more closely with machines. Business leaders need to accept this new alliance between humans and machines – and reimagine the future of work. But how do organisations leverage disruptive technology for competitive advantage? That’s a question most business leaders are grappling with now.
Let’s get back to Davos, which caught the attention of global leaders and the whole world earlier this year. Jobs, reskilling, and technologies such as artificial intelligence were among the many topics of discussion at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. There’s labour disruption happening in the world due to forces such as industrialisation, globalisation, digitisation and automation. Around 800 million workers worldwide are at risk, between now and 2030.
Historically, such disruptions seem to be happening in waves over the decades.
When the world went through the first industrial revolution and transitioned to new manufacturing processes, jobs moved from the fields to the factories. Farmers had to reskill for work that moved to the shop floor and assembly lines. That was the first instance of man-machine interaction. This disruption happened again when computers came into offices. Typists, stenographers and artists had to reskill for digital technologies.
The disruption is happening yet again, and this time it’s caused by artificial intelligence, robots and sensors. It will have an impact on organisations’ growth and profitability.
According to a research report by Accenture that was released in Davos, businesses risk missing major growth opportunities unless CEOs take immediate steps to pivot their workforces and equip their people to work with intelligent technologies. The strategy report is titled Reworking the Revolution: Are you ready to compete as intelligent technology meets human ingenuity to create the future workforce?. It estimates that if businesses invest in AI and human-machine collaboration at the same rate as top performing companies, they could boost revenues by 38 percent by 2022, and raise employment levels by 10 percent. Collectively, this would lift profits by US$4.8 trillion globally over the same period. For the average S&P500 company, this equates to US$7.5 billion in revenue and a US$880 million lift to profitability.
The Accenture report cites the following industries that will benefit the most (in terms of revenue) from AI investment. These are consumer goods, health, telecommunications, retail, professional services, financial services, chemical, and automotive.
Both leaders and workers are optimistic about the potential of AI on business results and work experiences, according to the study. Of the 1,200 senior executives surveyed, 72 percent said that intelligent technology will be critical to their organisation’s market differentiation and 61 percent felt the share of roles requiring collaboration with AI will rise in the next three years. More than two-thirds (69 percent) of the 14,000 workers surveyed said that it’s important to develop skills to work with intelligent machines.
Industry body NASSCOM asserted that 40 per cent of the approximately four million-strong workforce must be reskilled in the coming five years if they are to keep up with the changing face and automation of the industry. In other words, reskilling can create new types of jobs that will offset job losses, and hence neutralise the impact of the latter. If the workforce is armed with new skills organisations will be prepared to tap new opportunities, and that will lead to growth.
Clearly, the mindset needs to change. Automation technologies like AI are not a threat to jobs, but offer a plethora of growth-facing opportunities. Are you preparing your workforce to leverage these opportunities?
This article was produced by the Fortune India Brand Solutions team on behalf of Accenture and not by the Fortune India editorial team.