According to many observers, recent advances in robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning make it possible to automate almost all routine, repetitive and predictable work. Many jobs are, on some level, routine, repetitive and predictable and therefore susceptible to replacement by technology. However, naysayers point out that new technology could create jobs as yet envisaged while it is impossible to accurately forecast the skills companies will value in the future.
Although no one can predict the future, the most likely outcome is a mix of these two outcomes: automation and digitisation will eliminate many jobs and alter others beyond recognition it the quest for greater efficiency and scale; at the same job technological innovation will open up new opportunities in the workplace and place a higher value on skills such as creativity and our ability to interact with customers in a uniquely human way. In addition, technology – and most especially information – will facilitate a change in how decisions are made that should prove advantageous for companies.
Information for all
In the past, information was the preserve of senior management: it received it, processed it and acted on it. The advent of new technologies means that data has become a commodity: it is potentially available to many more levels of the enterprise. Should decision-making be democratised in response?
According to Joachim Hensch, managing director at high-end fashion group Hugo Boss Textile Industries, the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. “We have no time for all these different hierarchy levels [when making] a decision – ‘Do we go for a blue jacket or a black suit?’.” He believes that it is inevitable that “more levels of people will be involved in decision-making than in the past. It’s a financial risk if we wait too long and then we’re late in the market.”
“We need to understand how we can make information more transparent, more accessible.”
It’s always been the case that if the competition is quick, you need to be quicker. But in the digital age the pace – and its implications – is much greater. “We need to understand how we can make information more transparent, more accessible,” notes Walt Disney’s director of technology and operations Denise White. She adds that greater availability of information and openness around data delivers operational benefits for companies: “It leads to us being faster”.
An ecosystem approach
Gathering data across the organisation and making it available to a wider audience within a company may be a laudable goal but how can it be practically achieved?
“The answer is ecosystems,” says Pascal Huijbers, chief technology officer at Fujitsu Benelux, who believes that democratised decision-making will only be efficient and effective if companies work more collaboratively – both internally between departments and with external partners.
Ivar Wiersma, head of innovation at ING Wholesale Banking, says that many in the banking sector are aware of this expectation and are acting on it. “You need to be [instantly available to clients to answer] questions about how to operate, how to manage their balance sheet, how to manage their working capital, how to manage their P&L and their risk management, and enable them to make better decisions,” he notes. As well as working more closely with clients, Wiersma says that banks are now collaborating more: “We are operating in ecosystems, and there will be more multi-bank initiatives”
The bank as speedboat
To collaborate more effectively with clients – and help them achieve their ambitions to be lean and agile, for example – banks must continue to evolve the way they work, according to Siegfried Loeffler, director of program operations with media and entertainment tech giant, Technicolor.
"Today, our researchers are asked to build business cases, come up with pitches, become entrepreneurs and act like start-ups inside a bigger company.”
“Today, our researchers are asked to build business cases, come up with pitches, become entrepreneurs and act like start-ups inside a bigger company,” says Loeffler. “But the financial know-how to build business cases [is missing]. It would be great if banks could get involved in that project definition [process] to help the research people build a business case.”
To succeed in such a role, banks will have to rethink their culture. Instead of being a lumbering supertanker, banks will need to become a faster and more nimble speedboat. Richard Copland, innovation and emerging technology director with end-to-end IT and business process services company CGI, says the bank of tomorrow will play a more “advisory, consultative role with higher value skillsets” and provide insights from data that can be used to help companies work more effectively with their own customers.
It’s a message that ING Wholesale Banking understands, according to Wiersma. “Understanding clients, the tasks they need to perform and their actual needs is very important,” he notes, explaining that ING can help clients’ to evaluate the challenges they face and build solid business cases for change. “We also work together with young start-ups to help them develop a board, connect to larger clients, and prepare for pitching to larger clients,” he adds.