Here are a few tips which I hope will be helpful to transform your business through technology.
I am confident we will soon reach a point where we will no longer view artificial intelligence as a mysterious dark force, and will see the media frenzy over this concept begin to subside. It is now time for calm assessments and early conclusions. We will look closely into whether AI algorithms and neural networks actually improve efficiency and increase sales. We will be checking whether our analytical tools actually enable us to anticipate buyer behavior. The capabilities of smart technologies are increasingly verifiable. This article is dedicated to leaders and key specialists, and especially all those who are wondering how to bring new technologies into their companies while retaining control over their organizations and being able to predict developments. Here are a few tips intended to help you embark on a journey of digital transformation.
1. Do not demonize artificial intelligence
So, you’ve you been wondering how to exploit machine self-learning in your organization. Excellent. Do not let the media make you think you are entering into a pact with dark forces. Artificial intelligence can work with people rather than replacing them. It can help restructure business units and entire organizations, accelerate processes and facilitate decision making. It can even teach the people who will work with AI to think and be visionary. It will reveal its full capabilities provided you recognize that its main use is to tap the potential of your employees. And perhaps also the hidden potential that lies in your company’s products and services. Make sure your managers adopt this mindset.
2. Analyze your models
There are two ways you can approach smart technologies. Either you allow them to take your company to a whole new level and ascend to the global digital ecosphere (through a company-wide revolution), or have it fix or improve a specific issue, unit or process while the company itself continues business as usual. Both scenarios are possible. The key questions to ask yourself, regardless of your intentions, is how your company has been processing information and supporting data flows and how its approach has impacted the bottom line, customer service, unit management, and communication among employees. Has your current technology made a significant contribution to the company’s key processes? Where did your organization create added value for customers?
Effective and efficient data management is key to productivity across the organization. New technologies can take your company to a whole new level. However, for this to happen, it is essential to closely examine the solutions in place and reveal their weaknesses.
3. Trust your intuitions, resolve your doubts
The above will help you define the scale of the changes and the areas they should affect. Do you wish to collect data on customer behavior and analyze “user experience”? Or perhaps improve information exchange between distributors, traders and merchandisers? Or – as could be the case with medical and pharmaceutical companies – have data processing lead to breakthroughs and revolutionary insights and decisions? You are well advised to run your premonitions and misgivings by outside experts. They will tell you whether, in order to adopt new solutions, you will need to build your company’s systems from the ground up, or if new solutions can be embraced without upsetting the current order.
4. Remember that new data management will create new relationships
This year’s McKinsey Global Institute report “Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce” suggests that demand for employees with advanced technical skills – analysts, engineers and programmers who will manage the data stream – will increase significantly over the next few years. That is not all. Specialists will be sought, whose main job will be to create new relationships in the company. New technologies will affect employees’ behavior, prompting them to find new ways to deliver on their responsibilities and approach relations with other people. You will need psychologists, trainers and specialists to help you manage processes on the man-machine interface.
5. Help your workers understand technology
Managers feel that technology is no longer “transparent”. Put humorously, you might say: “So my car can drive all by itself, but how come it can do it so well”? What we want is for our data to be processed perfectly and help us make best decisions. Our unease results from not knowing how exactly analytical programs reach their conclusions. We remain suspicious.
Leaders need to prepare for the fact that innovative solutions will inevitably make workers anxious. They must anticipate such questions as: “Will automation upset our business unit? What controls should we adopt?”
How should leaders respond? Watch and listen. Foster internal communication. And above all, raise worker awareness by creating education and self-improvement opportunities. A good communication and education policy and regular team briefings on deployment progress, have the power to avert crises. By going over the best approach to change with your team members, you will make them comfortable with technology.
6. Think beyond profit
Bottom line impact remains the key concern on any new project. However, given the sheer potential of AI and other new technologies, it may at times be smarter to “suspend” that focus. The courage to take risks, the ability to accept failure and push for continuous improvement are increasingly valued in today’s business. As new technologies change the world around us without revealing all of the possibilities, there is often no other choice but to leap into the unknown. By clinging to quick, low-risk profit, which is theoretically a safe way to do business, a company may thwart its growth and waste opportunities to rise to a completely new market position and technological status. To make your organization grow, consider it crucial to sail into uncharted waters.
7. Bye bye, hierarchies
Sooner or later, the change you are facing will affect the way your company is run. Come to terms with the fact that hierarchical top-down decision-making models are becoming obsolete. Today’s technologies do not mix well with authority and display a low tolerance for artificially-preserved hierarchies. Instead, they favor multi-level cooperation. The biggest challenge for today’s leaders is to combine hierarchies with decentralization. The ability to choose which areas to “let go of” and delegate to the team, and which to continue to control, will be at a premium. One thing is certain: technology has a way of exposing human errors. It is therefore wiser to prepare to surrender much of our power.
I hope that some of the above observations will prove useful in building new digital business models. And if you are already familiar with this advise, perhaps it will make you feel you are not alone in the transition process and have other like-minded people around you.
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Jacques Bughin, Eric Hazan, Susan Lund, Peter Dahlström, Anna Wiesinger and Amresh Subramaniam, Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce,McKinsey Global Institute, link, 2018.
Martin Lundqvist and Peter Braad Olesen, Digitizing the delivery of government services,McKinsey Global Institute, link, 2017.
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