This is part one of eight articles on the upcoming trends that executives in Singapore need to watch out for. In this story, we explore how digital transformation will help us become more human at the workplace, and what the C-Suite can do to facilitate that transformation from the top down. 

Technology is changing faster and businesses are reaping the benefits. Rather than a unique phenomenon, the digital revolution is actually a growing wave of technical disruptions to communication and interaction everywhere.

Effective chief executive officers understand the need to lead their business productively through their digital transformation and instead of passively adapting to the changes, proactively develop the skills and vision to take advantage of them.

The most effective chief information officers will navigate the rapidly approaching talent shortage and implement the technology necessary to add value. The big question for every C-suite is: does the rest of the team have the skills required for this task and do they recognise what’s truly at stake?

Who will lead the transformation?

According to a study by Forrester, more than 60% of global executives believe their company is falling behind on digital transformation and is not doing enough to prepare for the future. Forrester predicts that around 20% of CEOs will put their company at risk by not acting on digital transformation. Correspondingly, a Commvault study shows a high number (around 40%) of companies have not developed a cogent strategy for digital transformation.

These companies are missing an opportunity, according to Fernando Andraus, Senior Partner for Latin America and Head of Global ICT Practice, Page Executive, “Technology is vital for cost reduction and process improvement, as well as for new ways of serving clients and managing teams. This generates data to better understand client and team needs and behaviours.”

Jeanne Ross, Director at MIT School’s Center for Information Systems Research, agrees that the key to a company’s digital transformation lies in treating data as an asset, and using technology to construct a platform consisting of data, people and processes. Ross believes that data allows us to understand and better serve customers, and that leaders must “stay focused on what’s going to drive the most value, what’s the most important thing to do, what you can pull off.”

It comes down to clear leadership, Fernando Andraus points out: “When setting up a strategy for the transformation process, CEOs and CIOs should ask themselves whether they want to be pioneers, early adopters or followers for these new technologies.”

The barrier to effective leadership, action and transformation is often fear: in much of the general discourse, digital and technology are used interchangeably with AI and automa- tion, which can lead to misconceptions and misplaced anxieties.

As technology shifts, so does responsibility

In many industries, such as construction, logistics and manufacturing, automation and artificial intelligence are replacing lower-skill jobs. People previously in these positions need managerial and technical training to oversee operations conducted by machines. The European Commission warns that a shortfall of 825,000 workers with the requisite digital managerial and technical skills will emerge by 2020, meaning investment in skills is urgently needed today.

This does not mean that everybody needs programming skills, but that the C-suite must facilitate collaboration between teams. Training and collaboration are pushing digital transformation onwards, meaning departmental silos will cease to exist. In a disrupted future, it makes more sense to set up dynamic offices and adapt to project-based work.

Chatbots are primed to take on customer-facing roles, although currently limited in what they can do, with humans necessary for complex tasks and to supervise the digital agent. IT professionals are needed for technical issues, maintenance and operational improvements suggested by the human controller. Gartner predicts that “by 2020, 20% of companies will dedicate workers to monitor and guide neural networks,” which again poses the question: where are these workers coming from?

As organisations rely more on data, so senior leadership needs to view data not as a necessity, but as a strategic asset for the success of their business. Commvault explained that more than 50% of participants see the key for success in “better data collection and management”, as well as “new tools to analyse increasingly sophisticated data.”

Hand in hand: customer and employee experience

The CIO needs a clear vision with team goals that satisfy the customer, retain talent and mirror the overall leadership strategy. IT professionals need to know they are working towards a common objective and developing disruptive tech for the customer that fulfils business goals.

This work is, by definition, meaningful and transformative, with results measured by its impact on business. Automation plays a big part in this development, because employees will have more time to think and act on creative solutions, as the PWC 2016 Industry 4.0 study explains. Besides machine learning and artificial intelligence, influencing and relational soft skills will be highly in demand.

We expect CIOs to lead the transformation process together with the CEO. However, Fernan- do Andraus warns us that “CIOs sometimes perceive these new technologies as potential sources for cost reduction and process automation, rather than business transformation tools. To change the mindset, it is key to have a deep understanding of the company’s business model and industry trends.”

This is a clear shift in focus. Until recently, companies concentrated on the product and to a lesser extent, the customer experience (CX). While employees focus on CX, CIOs need to look closer at their employees’ experience in the organisation. Fernando Andraus sees the client and employee experience walking hand in hand, and a clear opportunity for the C-suite: “IT tools that are mainly designed to learn about client experiences and needs can be used and adapted to have the same approach for employees.”

Machines will make us more human again

CIOs do not need deep technical knowledge of new technologies, but they do require a clear vision about business needs and the possibilities technology presents. It is, after all, up to the CIO to choose the right tool for the right team at the right time, because as technology leader for the company, they have the ability and mandate to improve adoption and acceptance.

“The question is, ‘What engagement is expected from clients and employees regarding the use of these new technologies?’” says Andraus. “Sometimes senior management has a strong belief in transformation technology. Its success, however, depends on its importance to clients and the employees affected by it.”

It benefits us all to adopt a more pragmatic stance on what digital technology ultimately is – a tool of incredible potential to increase productivity – and what AI really means: the automation not of jobs but of tasks.

Companies in which leadership puts a clear strategy in place, based on knowledge rather than fear, and harnesses that reality will position themselves to become more human than artificial intelligence can ever be. As a result they will be ideally placed to profit from providing value to people: namely their customers and employees.

Digital transformation is about bringing that all together. A true digital leader connects all the infrastructure, professional and cultural aspects of a business to keep employees happy, helping them collaborate to do more meaningful work.

That, ultimately and inevitably, will make customers happy.

Used effectively, machines enable people to focus their creativity on the human-centric elements of their jobs and automate repetitive tasks.

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