Is your board ready for the robots?

With great power comes great responsibility. Analytics and exponential technologies are potentially some of the most powerful transformative forces in the business world today.

More than 50 members of our Non-Executive Director community joined us in August to consider and discuss the role of the board in effective stewardship of organisations on this exciting journey.

Australian business leaders do not need to look far into the future to see the newest wave of digital disruption headed towards them. Analytics and exponentials technologies are all around us, but are Australian businesses ready?

Recent surveys have indicated that although Australia is a close second after the United States in the take up of intelligent automation technology, only one third of Australian businesses have the preparedness and skills required to embrace this in the workforce.

So how can we shift the dial and start thinking about the implications of the future today and consider what a digitally enabled world looks like in the context of work, the worker and the workplace?

We believe there are 5 realities to this journey – that impact businesses, leaders, the communities of workers, as well as the consumers that surround us:

  • Reality 1: Everything is on the table and within reach. A clear indication being over half of jobs today are likely to be automated in the next 10-15 years
  • Reality 2: Technology can learn and deduce faster than we can, when set up with the right conditions
  • Reality 3: The workforce of tomorrow will look quite different to the one of today – we are already seeing organisations that have both humans and machines considered as a part of their overall workforce and organisational design
  • Reality 4: Our skilling and capability development efforts will be driven by the new paradigm of “work to learn and not learn to work”. All the way from our kids in school through to their entry into the workplace
  • Reality 5: Public Policy needs a lot of catching up to do on this front. But we can’t wait for this, technology won’t and innovators/disruptors won’t either

For Non-Executive Directors, we advise them to consider this journey through three key dimensions:

  1. Technology: What is hype versus reality today, what are we getting ready for and how – exactly – will this impact work within organisations?
  2. People: What are the consumers of these ecosystems demanding as an experience and what will be the experience of the worker in this new world?
  3. Leadership: What does it look like to be a good leader on this intimidating journey – to lead the future of our businesses and our people?
Technology | Work

Intelligent automation amplifying human capacity

The immediate challenge for any organisation is to find the quickest path through the hype of new technologies to implementing solutions that will directly and positively impact productivity. In broad terms, this can be considered in two ways:

  1. Automating the work of the hands: Robotics are rules-based, repetitive process engines working with predictable inputs. It provides consistent outcomes to alleviate humans of mundane and repetitive tasks.
  2. Automating the work of the mind: Cognitive Automation and AI have led to an explosion of data, smarter algorithms and processing power which have enabled machines to replicate human judgement and augment human intelligence. This covers a broad spectrum including Chatbots, machine learning and advanced analytics and these technologies allow for speedy processing in the back end, with minimal need for human touch.

Organisations need to move now, acting fast and smart through the new world of technology to find the greatest gains in efficiency and productivity in their systems and for their people.

People | Experience

Consumers of this new ecosystem are demanding new experiences

A unique feature of these new technologies is the ease of adoption and the ease of interaction with consumers.

Today, consumers can easily access scripted assistants like Siri, Echo, Cortana or Google, so in the near future when we add intelligence to these platforms, consumers will soon be creating or demanding a whole range of new experiences from businesses. Anticipating and creating the designs of these experiences will differentiate innovators and disruptors from those that play catch-up.

The impact of new consumer experiences will be all pervasive across all types of organisations, from financial services, general labour, healthcare, resources or retail.

Importantly, workers in the ecosystem cannot be left behind and will need to be ready to operate in this new world. This is a great opportunity to transition our workforce to higher value activities, as routine and mundane tasks get automated or augmented with these technologies. However this opportunity can only be realised if we ask a few critical questions as leaders of these new ecosystems:

  • What is the experience of the worker?
  • How can designing new customer experiences take advantage of these technologies?

Human and machine intelligence are best viewed as complements rather than substitutes and working together can achieve better outcomes than either alone. While they might solve the same problems, they approach these problems from different directions. For example, machines find highly complex tasks easy, but stumble over seemingly simple tasks that any human can do. To realise the most from pairing human and machine, we need to focus on how the two interact, rather than on their individual capabilities.

If we’re to draw a line between human and machine, then it is the distinction between creating and using knowledge. On one side is the world of the unknowns (both known and unknown), of fuzzy concepts that cannot be fully articulated, the land of the humans, where we work together to make sense of the world. The other side is where terms and definitions have been established, where the problem is known and all variables are quantified, and automation can be applied.

To effectively bridge the gap, we need to reframe work, changing the foundation of how we organise work from task to be done to problem to be solved.

Leadership

The unique challenge to be a leader in this new ecosystem

As leaders in this new world, we are faced with a number of emotions when facing off in to this journey – that range from fear of the unknown to fear of being able to lead our people in the right way on this journey.

We know regulation is an evolving story on this front and timing the journey right for our organisations is essential. It’s a delicate balancing act between being on the bleeding edge or a fast follower or – if you leave it too late – playing catching up.

Leaders need to keep a 360 degree perspective on this journey – leading with one lever, say efficiency, may not yield the true potential of these technologies. They need to be conscious of the social and community impact of adoption and be able to craft a new talent ecosystem that can design and operate this new world for their businesses.

We are operating in an environment where technology is all pervasive. As leaders, we do need to get a deep understanding of these capabilities and not delegate that to a ‘brains trust’. We are looking at a world where it’s not businesses enabled by good technology, but a step further where good technology companies are delivering a superior business service.

In light of such rapid change, it’s important to remember that while the purpose of the board is not changing, the challenges facing them are changing radically. Governance will get a whole lot harder because there is a whole lot more to govern, brand new challenges to consider and choices to be made. Is your board ready to respond?

For more insights, please see our recent report The Robots are Here


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