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As European businesses assess the wreckage of the pandemic, the region seems more ready than ever to grasp the opportunities offered by digital tools and techniques and their role in the future of work, according to our recent Work Ahead study.

To understand the changing nature of work in a world dominated by digital and disrupted by Covid-19, we surveyed 4,000 global executives globally and across industries, 1,400 of whom were in Europe. We found an executive class eager to apply artificial intelligence (AI), intelligent machines and Internet of Things (IoT) to change how work gets done and forge a modern business able to withstand markets moving at lightning speed. It took a pandemic to accelerate this long-overdue modernization drive, but European businesses now realize the opportunities and the hard work ahead. 

Five key themes emerged from our research and analysis:

  • The pandemic is a level setter, and Europe must up its game. More than half of respondents believe the virus will catalyze more data-intensive and digitally oriented ways of working in Europe, as well as more flexible and multi-disciplinary teams. The majority are convinced that the pandemic will take a wrecking ball to businesses that don’t move toward more digital approaches.
  • IoT, AI and alternative sourcing models are set to reshape how work gets done. Executives are bullish on new forms of technology, with 47% expecting hyperconnectivity (and its corollary IoT) and AI-driven systems to dynamically shape the future of work. The rise of hyperconnectivity and AI will trigger more data-oriented technology investments to dramatically change how goods are produced and sold and how value chains connect together. Our research also records a steep rise in alternative sourcing strategies, with the percent of respondents naming this as a key driver rising 12 percentage points from our 2016 Work Ahead study.
  • More and more enterprise work is pivoting toward intelligent machines. The ratio of work performed by humans vs. machines continues to tip in favor of machines, particularly in the areas of data organization, complex decision support and rules-based decision making. As the explosion of process data moves beyond the human-scale ability to manage and draw insights from it, thriving in the post-pandemic world calls for data mastery at the core.
  • Teaming people with machines boosts business performance. Although greater operational efficiency is a leading benefit of augmenting processes with technology, other significant outcomes include better decision-making and improved customer and employee experiences. In our analysis, businesses that use technology to augment multiple processes achieve even greater business benefits, with a five- to seven-percentage point upside across the board.
  • Fast-changing work calls for an equally accelerated skills renaissance. Needed skills have shifted away from global operating and strategic/ analytical skills, toward innovation, practical decision-making and leadership. In a time of intense disruption and change, the ability to create new and better ways of working is regarded as paramount, together with finding the skills the organization needs to thrive.

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