New technology offers many opportunities for businesses and organisations to transform themselves. Whether it’s artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, Big Data, or blockchain technology – or most likely a combination of all them – the prize is there for the taking by those ready to take on the challenge.
AI alone has been forecast to double the economic growth rate in developed countries, and the changes will be as significant as they were with the introduction of computers and the internet.
Not everyone will benefit immediately, though. On an individual level, workers may find themselves replaced by machines which can perform their job just as well and far more cheaply, and without making pesky demands such as coffee breaks and sickness leave. It won’t just be low-skilled production line workers, either. Journalists are the latest in the firing line, thanks to a deal announced by a major UK news agency this summer, which says they will use AI to write stories. Doctors and lawyers are also expecting that there will be less demand for their services following the development of AI technology which can carry out routine but vital parts of their work.
For businesses, though, the question is likely to be whether they have the tools and skills in place to take advantage of the opportunities on offer. Many don’t – and this has led to the widening of the ‘digital IQ’ gap, between those in a position to profit, and those likely to be left behind.
It’s certainly not too late though. Despite the huge changes which have swept through every industry, it’s likely we are still close to the start of this period of technological upheaval. In 10 years’ time, tech will exist which makes today’s machine learning and predictive analytics seem primitive by comparison. So here are four ways to make sure your organisation falls on the right side of the gap.
Recruiting and retaining talent
For now, at least, people will lead the digital revolution. No machine yet developed is smart enough to develop an organisation’s tech and data strategy, identify the areas where data and analytics can have the optimum impact, find the right people and tools for the job, and motivate a workforce to carry it out.
This means that choosing which humans you need to run your automated, AI-driven operation is more vital than ever. The problem here is that people, particularly with the skills and experience you need, are expensive and highly sought-after. Companies with the budgets to take on teams of highly trained data scientists and engineers have been buying them up for several years, and colleges are only starting to get to grips with the demand for training in this field.
Recruitment and retention in key positions – data strategy, data-driven operations and data governance – is something which is now likely to require higher priority, and greater resources, then previously. Some companies have taken innovative approaches to this – such as running competitions through services such as Kaggle to crowd-source their analytics talent.
Buying in talent
This can be done on two scales. One is through the use of external consultants and experts – there is now a fully-fledged industry of outsourcing specialists in data strategy, analytics and AI, keen to share their skills with the highest bidder. This can of course be expensive, particularly if you want the best (and if you aren’t hiring the best, that means your competition could well be). It also means you are not adding permanent and enduring capabilities to your own portfolio of assets – in other words you are renting talent.
A more permanent but larger scale solution, generally requiring much more resources, is to make acquisitions. Buying companies along with their assets and skillsets wholesale is generally only an option for the big boys, which regularly splash out millions or billions to pick up interesting technology created by clever people, while it is still in its infancy.
Building partnerships with talent
Before it completely acquired them, supermarket giant Tesco partnered with data specialists Dunnhumby to develop and roll-out its loyalty card scheme – now the largest in the UK. Despite its mammoth resources, Tesco did not have the expertise or skills to capture and analyse data on the necessary scale. Building partnerships has similar benefits to hiring consultants and experts, but there is an expectation that credit will be shared, and the results of the partnership will be something of value to both parties, rather than something of value solely to the customer, with the consultant or expert merely being paid for their time. For example, many businesses partner with academic institutions – the business benefits from high calibre knowledge while the university or college benefits by getting the chance to demonstrate that its theories and concepts have practical industrial applications.
Not the quickest solution – but in the long run this approach has the potential to be highly beneficial. Cross-training differently skilled staff so they develop the ability to augment their work with analytics, AI and data-driven technology is an approach which is becoming increasingly common, most frequently in the financial sector.
I believe it is an approach which will be adopted across many other industries with increasing keenness. Partly this is thanks to the growing number of tools and platforms designed to allow those who aren’t computer science specialists to plug in their own data and start to reap the benefits. It’s also likely that employees will become increasingly keen to engage with – or even demand – this upskilling.
Any business, big or small, across any sector, must take steps now to close the digital IQ gap or risk being left behind during the 4th Industrial Revolution.
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