The Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing the way we live, work and play. Technology is evolving exponentially, and the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is resulting not only in new ways of doing things, but also new challenges for leaders.
These are systems that can understand, learn, predict, adapt and potentially operate autonomously. They can learn and change future behaviour, leading to the creation of more intelligent devices and programs.
Increasingly these systems are working alongside us, from digital personal assistants like Siri to purchase predictions from Amazon. That means it’s no longer ‘machine vs. human’, but rather ‘machine and human’.
But as responsive and responsible leaders, what are the things we need to think about with AI to get the most of it, not only for our organisations but for our people?
1. Retraining for the future.
Looking back, each industrial revolution has had its own impact on skills. Five million jobs are at risk from the Fourth Industrial Revolution and it’s not only blue-collar jobs at stake. Smart computers are demonstrating they are capable of making better decisions than humans, whether it’s at chess or at determining your life insurance premium. Educated “knowledge” workers—journalists, lawyers, doctors, marketers—are threatened by accelerating advances in artificial intelligence.
Technology accelerates the pace of internal change. As leaders, we drive that change, but we also have a responsibility to the people we employ.
Your people are your competitive advantage. Rethink Robotics' Baxter robot is an assembly line robot, but instead of being programmed by computer scientists, workers who were doing the manual task take the robot's arm and perform that task in order to train the robot. That way you are leveraging your people’s expertise.
Although there are roles under threat, there are also roles that will become needed more than ever. It’s more cost efficient to retrain current employees to fill the roles you need in the future than it is to hire new ones, and they are also more likely to be loyal to your organisation.
2. Creating customer experience for the digital age
Customers are more demanding than ever before. They want always-on access to services through a choice of channels, tailored services and communication based on their preferences and history. And they’ll give feedback instantly via social media.
Delivering the experience customers want is putting pressure on customer service agents. The agent often gets caught in middle, trying to balance the demands of the organisation (increase efficiency) with the needs of the customer (get better service).
For this reason, organisations like Expedia are looking at using AI to support customer service first. Enabling deeper and richer interactions with end customers is an area where AI can add real value. For example, routine calls into a contact centre can be largely automated (for example, confirming a flight), but more complex engagements will still be handled by agents, supported by smarter systems. AI frees up customer service agents to become the experts, working alongside the machines to not only solve your problem, but also make suggestions to improve service – like finding the best restaurant or experience for the location you are visiting. Customer experience improves.
3. Leading humans and machines
The future of increased productivity and business success isn’t either human or machine - it’s both. Technology can help humans work better, smarter, and faster. It can help us as leaders rethink how people engage with their jobs and how we can facilitate seamless collaboration.
McKinsey believes that currently technologies could automate 45% of the activities people are paid to perform. So do we need to change what they are paid to do? The performance metrics we pay people based on should to be more creative, more critical. That’s where our people can add value to an organisation, not focused on delivering outputs or efficiencies – that’s the value the machines can add.
No organisation is future-proof. As technology develops, it will make greater inroads into activities that currently seem to be impervious to automation. But instead of viewing machines as the competition, we must see them as our collaborators in creatively solving problems.