Artificial Intelligence (AI) might seem like something you read about in a sci-fi novel on the train home. Or indeed, a challenging business question – but one for the next generation of CEOs to grapple with. But in reality, it is one of the most pressing issues that boardrooms should be considering today.
AI is coming to the workplace, and fast. Technologies that already exist could be used to support half of the activities that people are paid to do today. In fact, PwC, one of the world’s largest professional services firms, predicts that the UK’s GDP could be increased by 10.3% by artificial intelligence, in the next 13 years alone.
When it does come, it really will change the way that work works: not necessarily replacing jobs, but in many cases, changing them for the better. Businesses that take steps to prepare now will reap the advantages first. So what can artificial intelligence do and how can business leaders bring it from the train home to the board room?
What artificial intelligence can do?The capabilities of AI are staggering. We’re already seeing exciting applications of this technology in many fields, from controlling traffic in harbour ports to diagnosing disease in hospitals.
In the world of work, AI is likely to impact virtually every industry, going far beyond the manual or low skill jobs that are often considered to be most susceptible. For example, large financial institutions like Goldman-Sachs are already considering how large parts of their compliance functions could benefit from automation by AI systems.
Meanwhile, there are suggestions that AI could help professional services firms like PwC to complete audits more quickly and more accurately, by analysing financial transactions to spot anomalies and patterns.
There are clear business benefits, as these cases show. Instead of hiring highly qualified and often high cost employees to complete repetitive, time-consuming tasks, this work can be delegated to AI systems that can complete it more quickly, and in some cases, more accurately. AI could offer huge efficiency savings and brand new capabilities.
However, equally important are the benefits that AI could bring in terms of improving the quality of our work lives and job satisfaction. Because job roles will not necessarily be lost: rather, they will change, to incorporate some degree of machine learning. Employees can spend more time on the more complex, more challenging, and ultimately more interesting parts of their role. This could be extremely positive, both for businesses and for us as individuals.
Preparing for artificial intelligence, nowBusiness leaders absolutely must take steps to prepare for AI now: both to shore up their own future competitiveness and to protect the interests of their workforce. As with past technology innovations, we know that those who can adopt technology early will find themselves one step ahead.
Think of Amazon and the rise of ecommerce – the company that was a forerunner in online shopping now dominates the world of retail, while traditional stores that failed to adapt lost customers and even went out of business. Business leaders should be considering how AI might impact and be used within their own organisation, right now.
That’s not to say that everyone must become an expert in the technology itself. Instead, it’s better to begin with your business, to consider the areas that could potentially benefit from AI. By working with the HR function, you can begin to create a view of how the workforce might change and which roles could utilise machine learning.
You can then work with experts in the technology to understand how AI can be applied, and the possibilities this can generate. By co-creating with tech specialists, it’s possible to make use of the latest advances from across industry, in a way that works for your own organisation.
Leaders must also consider the impact on their workforce. It’s very likely that many job functions will begin to incorporate management or even collaboration with an AI system. Some roles will even transform completely. It’s crucial that organisations start planning now to upskill their existing employees, investing in robust training programmes that will support ongoing learning, and ensure the capabilities needed are within the business.
It can be tempting to ignore developments like AI – or leave them happily in the realm of science fiction. But AI will soon change how we work fundamentally. By looking at AI now, business leaders can start to understand how the technology will shape their business, their workforce, and their own careers. Ultimately, those who are prepared will be the ones who thrive.
Duncan Tait, Corporate Executive Officer, SEVP and Head of Americas and EMEIA at Fujitsu. Please visit www.fujitsu.com for more information
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