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Discover The Future of Work

My last post talked about how Europe needs to build an Airbus for AI. If Europe is serious about winning the next stage of the digital economy, then that work needs doing now. The mesh between the old and new – between the physical and the virtual – is where European businesses could thrive. Everything from smart fridges, smart cars to intelligent factories to smart cities is now being built in Europe, changing industry structures and value chains in their wake.

To understand the changing nature of work in a world dominated by digital and disrupted by a pandemic, we surveyed 4,000 global executives globally across industries, and a bunch of them were from Europe. We found an executive class eager to apply AI and intelligent machines to change how work gets done and forge businesses able to withstand markets that move at lightning speed. You can read Europe’s Digital Ambition Scales but the long and short of it is that European firms have woken up to the opportunities and the hard work ahead. Here are five key things we learned:

  1. 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 and 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 digital-first approaches in how they put people to work. I get some people don’t like the term digital; are sick to the back teeth of it etc.; if that is the case, then call it something else because digital, data-intensive ways of working will be with us for decades to come
  2. 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 Internet of Things (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 outsourcing strategies, with the percent of respondents naming this as a key driver rising 12 percentage points from our 2016 Work Ahead study. I know outsourcing is seen as a dirty word but reading the survey results speak for themselves—outsourcing strategy is a way of catching up.
  3. More and more enterprise work is pivoting toward intelligent machines. The ratio of work performed by humans versus machines continues to tip in favour of machines, particularly in data organization, complex decision support, and rules-based decision-making. That pivot is more pronounced here in Europe than anywhere else, according to the survey. The explosion of process data it seems, is moving beyond human-scale understanding and thriving in the post-pandemic world calls for data mastery at the core. And don’t think this is just for knowledge work; the changes for manual/ procedural work will be even more profound and exciting to watch here in Europe—check out my previous study, The Renaissance of Blue Collar Work. No time? Read this post.
  4. So teaming people with machines boosts business performance. Although greater operational efficiency is a leading benefit from augmenting processes with technology, other significant outcomes include better decision-making and improved customer and employee experiences. Our analysis demonstrates that those leaders that use technology to augment multiple processes achieve even greater business benefits, with a five- to seven-percentage-point upside across the board. Want to know how? Read my colleague Mani Bahl and his report Humans + Intelligent Machines and the 5T model to build new workflows that blend people and machines together.
  5. Fast-changing work calls for an equally accelerated skills renaissance. Needed skills shift 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. Our interviews revealed big data specialists, process automation experts, security analysts, human-machine interaction designers, robotics engineers, and machine learning experts would be highly valued skills for the next phase of the digital revolution. Every business needs a strategy for securing the talent and skills they’ll need moving forward—what are you doing at your firm to drive a skills renaissance?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has been a siren call for Europe for years. Historically, the mandate has been muzzled as the continent continuously fails to scale its digital capabilities or falls back on its propensity to regulate. However, as businesses survey the wreckage of the pandemic on Europe’s economies, the region seems ready to grasp the opportunities that digital tools and techniques offer. I will be exploring this in a series of blogs over the coming weeks as a European that wants to see this part of the world thrive.

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