Businesses that are equipped with smart technology, such as AI, are the ones that will be able to adapt faster to unavoidable changes.
In the business world, the year 2020 will go down in the history books as the year the status quo was overturned. Companies had to move their businesses online overnight and keep their workforce connected remotely. But 2020 will also be viewed as a time of huge opportunity: for a lot of companies, the pressures brought on by the pandemic jolted them out of complacency and into the tech age.
While digital transformation has been at the top of business to-do lists for a long time, the effects of COVID-19 will cement its status. The pandemic has squeezed five years’ worth of technology change into a span of five months. And the common denominator for survival is the ability to implement change quickly.
If the first half of 2020 forced companies to undergo a digital transformation, the second half is going to force businesses and employees to face the question they’ve been avoiding: now that they have these new digital tools, how can they use them long term to cut costs and work more efficiently? It’s a big task. It requires a lot of education and upskilling. But it will change the face of the workforce forever.
The knowledge chasm is widening
We’ve been talking about artificial intelligence for more than a decade. We’ve seen it adopted in “futuristic” projects like self-driving cars, facial recognition, and automatic speech recognition. It can also have a huge impact on business, but only if employees know how to use it.
In 2019, it was reported that 40 percent of European startups classified as “AI companies” weren’t actually using AI in a way that was material to their businesses. That’s a serious waste of money and time. Yet AI adoption is on the upswing again, according to a report that found over 90% of decision-makers were planning to implement AI in the short term. This time around, it’s critical that the people using the AI know how to get the most out of it.
If they don’t, businesses will be wasting money and employees will become increasingly frustrated with new technology, kicking it to the curb before they can see its true potential.
AI is just one way to push the needle forward; there are other tools companies can adopt now to be successful. Since March, traditional industries like finance have adopted new technology to stay afloat, including contactless payments. So if banks that have traditionally been very slow to change can pivot in just a few weeks, why can’t companies that already have the digital infrastructure make the same kind of change?
With so many software tools promising so much in productivity gains and cost savings, it’s easy to be seduced by the online sell. It’s also easy to adopt the wrong tool. Without researching the right tools and the best ways to use them, executives are in danger of wasting everyone’s time and money.
The time to upskill workers is now
When it comes to next-gen workplace tech, there’s a huge skills gap. When Deloitte asked companies about struggles in hiring people with the right AI skills, they found that 54% of respondents reported the skills gap was “moderate,” “major,” or “extreme.” As company profitability starts to stabilize, and executives think about the next wave of hires, they really need to invest in employees who can push their digital transformation forward.
Even though the pandemic has shifted the way we think about work, the business community has always had to consider the importance of adopting new skills. But now, it’s not optional – it’s about survival.
The New York Times said it best: “In the coronavirus economy, companies are adopting more automation…but climbing up the skills ladder is the best way to stay ahead of the automation wave.” It’s not enough to just spend money on more tools to stay connected and collaborate; companies also need to give their employees ways to master new skill sets. Then they can use the new tech to get ahead of the competition.
Trint, the software company I run, has faced these same issues. Since March 1st, the company has grown from 50 to 75 employees. Yet, we have recently identified a huge skills gap on our team. We are heavily dependent on data as we grow our user base and optimize their experience. Since Trint was founded in December 2014, we have adopted a suite of data and analytics tools to give us insight. It’s been an organic process, lacking overall strategy and architecture. We have now identified overlap and redundancy, and inconsistency as we build out our data science team to optimize our own business needs. That means hiring seasoned data experts who bring experience skills with them so that they can identify problems and quickly implement solutions.
A successful future of work hinges on AI adoption
Since it first arrived on the scene, people have been wary of AI (thanks in part to horror movies). They’re so jittery that they’ve refrained from adoption, worrying that it will make certain jobs extinct. It’s this fear that can put companies at a competitive disadvantage.
But here’s the reality: we don’t know what the future will look like, work or otherwise. What we do know is that the businesses that are equipped with smart tech are the ones that will be able to adapt faster to unavoidable changes. AI can help navigate this in a few ways.
After all, the tech tools that have become ubiquitous in the last 20 years are the reason we’re even able to function in the current crisis.
AI will also open up new opportunities for creativity, innovation, and productivity in the workplace by managing the necessary but tedious tasks that take up a lot of employee time. It could analyze research to pull out interesting insights, or even take over the task of scheduling meetings. With this newfound free time in a team member’s schedule, the possibilities are endless.
A 21st-century company needs AI If used the right way, employees will be able to focus less time on these menial tasks that can be managed by the technology, which gives them more availability to think critically, solve complex problems and drive the innovation that will set them above the competition.
In the second half of the year, decision-makers will need to reassess budgets and make smart decisions about what the future will look like. Companies need to use this time to think about what’s missing from their current digital transformation.
The worst thing a company can do is spend money on something and not know how best to use it. Those that do will become increasingly irrelevant in the market.