The traditional idea of the secluded, self-contained, self-governed corporation will be massively revised in a world where collaboration inside as well as outside the company is vital for success, says George Zarkadakis
We are currently witnessing the first wave of automation impacting work, usually as a result of companies automating processes with RPA or by deploying chatbots to customer service centres, or – in specific industries such as logistics and warehousing – by reimagining work-intensive processes with the use of social robotics. The work dividends from this first wave of automation are mostly positive. Low level, tedious, hazardous and boring tasks are taken over by machines freeing up time for the humans to do the “higher level” tasks.
This opportunity for redeploying humans and reconfiguring work is certainly a very good message for the future of human and machine collaboration. But it requires that companies think proactively and reskill their workforce accordingly. For example, by deploying a chatbot to take over more than half of customer enquiries a major international telephone operator has managed to increase customer satisfaction, but also reduced the number of contracted workers who were necessary before.
The second wave of automation is yet to come. By “second wave” I mean big data and AI disrupting the business model of industries, and indeed blurring the boundaries that exist between industries today. Take for example the car industry. In a driverless car world the experience of driving will be radically different. Driverless cars will democratise the experience that only the superrich enjoy today: using the car as a second office, or an extension of their living room, while their trusted chauffer does the driving. So the question is: are car manufacturers ready for this profound transformation of their industry? Do they have the right skills to design, build and deliver these new experiences for their customers?
Thus work will change is three fundamental ways: some tasks will be automated and taken over by machines. Some tasks will be “augmented” by the machines, so that humans are empowered to do more with less. But there will also be “new work” and “new skills” that will be required because of the aforementioned, second wave of the AI disruption.
Jobs are a thing of the past
In the Fourth Industrial Revolution the biggest challenge for every business will be “speed to capability”. By those terms I mean how quickly a company can retool itself, both in terms of technology and skills, in order to perceive, analyse, understand and respond to changing customer behaviour and expectations. Cloud technologies can provide retooling agility, but that is not enough.
Companies will need to reorganize work in order to obtain “human agility” as well. They need to be able to access and deploy a wide range of skills quickly and on-demand.
This means that we must forget the concept of a “job”. This concept is a relic of the First Industrial Revolution where stability was critical for business success, and people were deployed in stable organizational units. In the new world of constant change and shifting trends stability is an obstacle. Human workers will be defined by their skills and not by job titles.