Why business needs to be ready for disruptive technology

The Fourth Industrial Age is dawning. “4IR” – the convergence of the physical, digital and biological worlds enabled by advanced and disruptive technologies such as AI, IoT, machine learning and robotics – is already transforming industries and overturning life and work as we know it. 4IR is bringing multiple benefits but also challenges. This includes disruption to jobs, wealth inequality, ethics and identity issues, security and conflict. It’s critical that businesses, governments and individuals are prepared for the change.

When it comes to the workforce, digital automation is transforming workflows and processes. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can automate many repetitive tasks, enabling humans to focus on higher level work. AI and machine learning involves computers analysing large amounts of data to understand and predict the desired action, improving this understanding over time.

To develop, manage and work with these technologies means new skills are needed.  People will be required to manage teams of AI, perform quality assurance, and address errors or complex issues as they arise. Many existing roles will change and evolve: the most in-demand jobs in Australia barely existed five years ago. They include positions such as UX designer, marketing automation manager and digital performance specialist.

For Australian businesses, this is going to mean a fierce fight for skills that are already in hot demand globally. All sectors are affected: from the public service to finance, retail and FMCG. Hiring talent has been a top challenge for businesses of all sizes in recent years, with jobs in the technology industry in particular growing at a rapid pace.

Yet, despite the implications, most Australian business leaders aren’t prepared for 4IR. Research carried out by KPMG Digital Delta shows the majority “know very little” or “haven’t heard of” the concept, and most organisations haven’t started implementing it. Larger organisations show higher understanding than SMEs, but still only just over half of them (54 percent).

Building necessary staff/skill capability is considered the top challenge in adopting 4IR technologies, but staff readiness is polarised. About one third of organisations feel their staff do have the necessary skills to implement new technologies, one third feel they do not have staff with the necessary skills, and one third is unsure. Larger organisations again show higher readiness than smaller businesses. They predict a “very high impact” and have started to upskill and reskill their workforces, and hire more AI skills.

Employees in companies with a weak understanding of the 4IR are in a more vulnerable position. These companies believe that the 4IR impact on the workforce and the business process will be smaller, which can limit the company’s buy-in to enact change, as well as the resources it dedicates to it. These companies also spend the least on R&D for technologies associated with the 4IR. Without a clear company direction or dedicated resources, employees are unlikely to have a distinct career path to transition into the work of the future through upskilling or reskilling.

Australian companies are not alone in having to respond to the growing skills gap. Many countries are not prepared to deliver life-long learning at scale. Australian corporations can take a lead in identifying the jobs that are changing and the skills needed for future employability. Australia has a vibrant and effective education industry, which will prove invaluable in helping Australian firms capture the value of new emerging technologies.

While the approach to implementation depends largely on the business model and needs, a business-wide technology strategy is necessary to reach more mature levels of implementation. Regardless of the industry and the position, life-long learning will be a necessary condition for future employment and companies that support strategy-building in this regard can add great value for businesses and employees alike. Without a clear company direction or dedicated resources, employees are unlikely to have a distinct career path to transition into the work of the future through upskilling or reskilling

The lack of readiness among Australian organisations is concerning. Change is already taking place, and it’s critical that business leaders better understand 4IR technologies and how to harness them to remain locally and globally competitive. Governments, firms and employees need to act to guarantee the preparedness and agility of a workforce that is able to make job transitions quickly and avoid potential structural unemployment.

Read the full report: The 2020 Fourth Industrial Revolution Benchmark

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