There is not a single industry or job that will not be impacted in some shape or form by digital technologies in the near future (in the next 5-10 years) and beyond that. In fact, I will go on to predict that every job will become digital in nature within the next 20 years or less. The trend is that the physical is being abstracted to digital (atoms to digits) and this trend will continue until we have reached the limit or some other advanced option is available.
The work as we know today is basically a function of our needs and the problems we face. Ever since the dawn of civilization man has asked questions of himself like Can we fly?, Can we go to the moon? Can we light in the dark? Can we talk over long distances?, Can we see over long distances?. These questions or thoughts is what has galvanized humankind into action to create a life of abundance and prosperity for all. What this has shown is that while we may be limited by our physical prowess but we far surpass that with our thinking and creativity to build tools and find solutions to our problems and challenges. In short, we are very good at problem-solving and developing tools and derive the maximum satisfaction out of these activities. This brings me to the point I want to make. Let’s face it, humans are not good at repetitive tasks or activities where our brain is not much utilized. Most of us do this kind of work not out of some interest or passion but because of the necessity of having a place to live, clothes to wear and food to eat. Digital technologies like RPA, AI (ML, Data Science), Big data analytics, IoT, and cloud/mobility are making it possible today that all human work which is mundane, dangerous to be replaced by digital solutions.
So where is this heading?
Today’s world is mostly made for human interaction on the operational side and not digital interaction. For example, we have input screens where data is entered by humans. So the first wave of automation was Desktop automation and now Robotic Process Automation with specific use cases for AI. In the next wave which is starting to happen and as we progress and become more digitally advanced, the operational side would work with data captured from scanned images or voice input etc. where a human is not required to input the data into screens. I see a future of an automated world where companies or organizations will exist mostly in digital forms with limited human touch-points where necessary. The organization as we know it today will be digitally transformed and operated. Business processes will become much more self-aware and intelligent and will adjust according to operational needs based on demand and software applications running behind the scenes will be made up of self-aware and intelligent components that could scale or descale as per the demands made of them and the price would adjust real-time as well.
So what is driving all this?
Operational and human costs are the biggest operating costs for an organization. Efforts have been afoot since ages to bring operational costs down. It started with Henry Ford’s assembly line manufacturing and then lean, six sigma and most recently within the organization’s optimum use of resources by having shared services and then outsourcing (cheaper labour). But technology will make that unnecessary now. Inventory, supply lines, delivery and order fulfillment will all be integrated with each other and with no humans involved in process executions. In fact, removing the humans out of the loop will increase productivity manyfold. Humans, by nature, are not very efficient, they are lazy as compared to machines, mood prone, they take time off, bathroom/smoking breaks, require incentives and medical benefits. This is the reason when American Auto companies reinvented themselves after 2008 they reached a settlement with trade unions regarding benefits because they are a big drain on profitability. All this efficiency and productivity will make things cheaper, abundant and faster. This will have a societal impact as fewer people will be needed for work. The role of Government will change because if fewer people are working then they would need to be provided financial assistance. It is not as if all this will happen overnight. It will happen in stages and will involve all of the thinking and adjusting because changes will happen faster than they have ever happened in human history.
What does this mean for humankind?
Humankind is at a precipice. All the change that is happening and about to happen will turn our current day reality upside down. For instance, how we earn our income, what we do with our time, how we respond to others, what gives us satisfaction, our mental well being, how we travel and live will all change. The rules regulations, government services will all need to adapt to the new reality.
What are the consequences for now?
Organizations that are sitting on the fences regarding a clear thought out digital transformation strategy run the biggest risk of going out of business. If you are finding it difficult to compete now with your competitors, imagine what will happen when they turn digital and you don’t? There is a reason why organizations are turning digital. First, it makes you lean, flexible, scalable, able to control your costs and respond to market changes all in real-time. Second, by going digital you gain the new currency called “data” that lets you analyze information real-time and adjust and adapt accordingly. You can predict future trends and see the roadway well ahead than before and adjust accordingly. Third, and more importantly, the end-users expectations are changing and if you get it right, consumers or your clients are more likely to do business with you than others. All this leverage and speed will not be available to a semi or non-digital entity and the gap would widen exponentially overtime that the non-digital entity will not be able to compete and go out of existence.
So, what is the message?
- Do not delay.
- Have an enterprise-wide strategy and a roadmap for a digital transformation journey.
- Don’t shy away from trying new technologies and failing. Learn and Pivot.
- Form industry partnership if you don’t have competencies in-house.
- Keep the customer at the center of your digital transformation.
- Have a strategy on the impact of technology on your current employees.
- Develop change management and communication mechanism both internal and external.
- Be part of the change.
- If you are a big organization then take a leadership role and help guide the change for the local community and at national and international level.
- Big businesses will need to work with Government in influencing policies, rules and regulations caused by the changes about to happen that are fair and inclusive and work for the people as well rather than just for businesses.
The ideas are discussed in the article are the author’s alone. Any comments and thoughts are most welcomed.
About the Author: Jaideep Kala is a principal at Toronto based Onbotix Serviceswhere he provides process excellence, automation and cognitive AI consulting services to medium and large enterprises.