A recent Gartner survey of Chief Information Officers finds that while just four percent have already implemented AI in some form in their businesses, 46 percent have plans in place to do so. Although there are many obstacles to implementing this groundbreaking technology, soon companies that fail to take advantage will lag behind. To help ease the potential pains of diving into adoption, our colleagues who conduct IT management research at Gartner have four recommendations to ensure success in the early stages of AI implementation: start small; focus on helping, not replacing, people; plan for knowledge transfer; and choose transparent solutions.
“Don’t fall into the trap of primarily seeking hard outcomes, such as direct financial gains, with AI projects,” Gartner analyst Whit Andrews explains. “In general, it’s best to start AI projects with a small scope and aim for ‘soft’ outcomes, such as process improvements, customer satisfaction or financial benchmarking.”
Early forays into AI should be learning experiences rather than attempts at large-scale change that dramatically reshape a department or function. It’s important to set modest goals for AI initiatives, given that the most important outcome will be gaining the knowledge and expertise to successfully apply the technology to a work stream. Additionally, while many employees fear AI could replace them, the easiest way to assuage those concerns is to deploy AI solutions that make employees’ lives easier. As Gartner EVP Peter Sondergaard remarked in his observations from the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, AI is expected to create many more jobs than it destroys, while generating massive value and saving billions of hours of worker productivity.
That means there’s an opportunity to get employees engaged with AI adoption as a technology that will make their jobs easier, rather than obsolete.
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The 2018 World Economic Forum, recently concluded in Davos, Switzerland, brought together political, business, and cultural leaders from around the globe to discuss the future of the global economy and its foremost institutions. Gartner EVP Peter Sondergaard was on hand to take in the events and speak with influencers at the forum, where he observed a few key themes in discussions of the future of the workplace: The increasingly digital nature of business, the rise of artificial intelligence, and the impact technology can have on improving diversity and inclusion.
“It became abundantly clear that organizations have reached the point at which the digital workplace must be driven by both CIOs and heads of HR,” Sondergaard explained. This doesn’t mean technology will eliminate the need for people, just that employees will need to work in different ways and companies will need to offer guidance on how to do that. “Such changes will require new models of learning and development,” he continued, “as well as the creation of hybrid workplaces that combine technology and information to accommodate a mix of employees.”
Certainly, we have seen a wide range of technologies promise to reshape how the people and processes of the workplace operate, but artificial intelligence is the driving force behind the most groundbreaking offerings. It’s powering Google Jobs, wearable tech, analytical tools, and voice-activated tech such as Amazon’s Alexa, as well as the automation of processes from candidate sourcing to performance management. As a result, demand for AI talent has skyrocketed as technology providers are scrambling to keep up with the rapid rate of change.
While the rise of AI has fueled fears of the potential for a massive loss of jobs, Sondergaard is confident that AI should ultimately create jobs if deployed properly. “As was true of the Industrial Revolution,” he also pointed out, “technological advances as a result of AI will spur job creation. In 2020, AI will create 2.3 million jobs, while eliminating 1.8 million — a net growth of half a million new positions. Organizations will realize an added benefit as in 2021 AI augmentation will generate $2.9 trillion of business value and save 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity.”
The saying that every company is now a technology company, in that every organization needs digital talent, has become a cliché among contemporary management gurus. Less often discussed, however, is the need for employees in roles that are not explicitly technical to also develop a level of technological expertise. While engineering, cloud computing, and cybersecurity skills are highly coveted, simply having the ability to work with and understand enterprise technology is almost as valuable, given that technology appears destined to transform nearly every role in the organization—if it hasn’t already.
In LinkedIn’s most recent survey, the most in-demand skills for 2018 are predominantly technical, 57 percent of the leaders surveyed said soft skills like leadership, communication, and strategic thinking were more important than hard skills. LinkedIn’s list of this year’s most promising jobs illustrate that point, as several among the top ten—Engagement Lead, Customer Success Manager, Sales Director, Program and Product Manager, and Enterprise Account Manager—are roles that require those soft skills as well as a familiarity with technology. Likewise, tech-specific roles like data scientist and DevOps engineer were high up on Glassdoor’s list of the best jobs in the US this year, but managerial and business operations roles also made up a large portion of the top 50.
In other words, technical specialists may be some of the hottest talent on the market, but it takes an army to enable that talent to generate business value—whether by interpreting data, bringing technologies to market, keeping a project on course, servicing clients, or finding new ones. All of these employees now require some digital skills, but not the same skills software engineers and data analysts need.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai made a similar argument in an op-ed published at NBC News last week, noting that “the focus on code has left a potentially bigger opportunity largely unexplored.” Pichai points to a recent Brookings Institution report finding that jobs requiring “medium-digital” skills had grown to nearly half of all available jobs in 2016:
When it comes to the threat or promise of automation, experts are divided as to whether AI and robotics will eliminate jobs en masse or merely automate rote tasks and free up more of workers’ time for innovation and creativity. McKinsey has put out some interesting research throughout the year in which they attempt to forecast the impact of these new technologies on the workforce. In January, they released the attention-grabbing headline finding that half of the work currently performed by humans could be automated with already-existing technology. Though fewer than 5 percent of jobs can be automated entirely, their research found, most jobs could have at least one third of their component tasks automated today.
In an update to that work published this week, McKinsey takes a closer look at the various factors that will drive automation in the coming decades—such as technical feasibility, cost of deployment, and labor market considerations—and concludes that “between almost zero and 30 percent of the hours worked globally could be automated by 2030, depending on the speed of adoption.” The effects will not, however, be evenly distributed among occupations:
Activities most susceptible to automation include physical ones in predictable environments, such as operating machinery and preparing fast food. Collecting and processing data are two other categories of activities that increasingly can be done better and faster with machines. This could displace large amounts of labor—for instance, in mortgage origination, paralegal work, accounting, and back-office transaction processing. … Automation will have a lesser effect on jobs that involve managing people, applying expertise, and social interactions, where machines are unable to match human performance for now.
At an event organized by the Jack Kemp Foundation last week, US Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta expressed support for a speedy overhaul of US employment laws to account for the advent of the gig economy and the changing relationship between workers and employers today, Chris Opfer reported at Bloomberg BNA. The secretary said the government needed to “keep pace with the pace of change in the private sector” and “re-examine the rules that regulate the employer-employee relationships that have an impact on the ability of individuals to work in a modern system.”
Acosta’s concern reflects a growing understanding that the employment laws and regulations written in the 20th century don’t account for the way many people work today and in particular, that some new form of employment classification may be needed to reflect the situation of people like Uber and Lyft drivers, who work as independent contractors but resemble regular employees in many aspects. The rights and obligations of these individuals and the platforms through which they find work are currently a legal gray area, being defined in the courts through litigation rather than by Congress.
That US employment laws need updating to account for today’s very different labor economy is not especially controversial, but what those updates should look like is hotly debated: Labor activists want gig economy workers to enjoy the same protections as traditional employees and progressive gig economy companies want a new social safety net for these workers based on portable benefits, whereas other businesses and lobbying groups want to limit regulation of this emerging economy as much as possible.
The annual Freelancing in America survey, released this week by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, paints a picture of a freelance workforce that is growing much faster than the US workforce in general. The report estimates the total number of US freelancers today at 57.3 million, or 36 percent of the total American workforce. That number has grown more than three times faster than the overall workforce in the past three years, and if this rate of change holds, freelancers are projected to compose a majority of the US workforce by 2027. Millennials are leading the trend in this direction, with 47 percent of millennial workers saying they freelanced.
The survey of over 6,000 US adults also finds that freelancers are doing better than their traditionally employed peers at preparing themselves for their professional futures: 55 percent of freelancers said they had engaged in some kind of re-skilling activity in the past six months, compared to 30 percent of regular workers. In general, 65 percent of freelancers said they were updating their skills as work evolved, while just 45 percent of others said so.
Freelancers are also feeling the impact of technological change more acutely, with 49 percent saying their work had already been affected by AI and robotics, against just 18 percent of full-time employees. At the same time, technology is also bringing them more work, with 71 percent saying the amount of work they had found online had increased in the past year.
Another interesting finding is that while many people lump freelancers in with the gig economy, freelancers don’t: Only 10 percent of freelancers in the survey said they considered themselves a part of that economy. Indeed, we’ve seen from other research that the gig economy, properly speaking—meaning workers who make a living through platforms like Uber—is just one component of the new trend toward contingent and temporary employment in the US labor market. Fast Company’s Ruth Reader considers why freelancers might be rejecting the “gig economy” label:
The advent of artificial intelligence and other previously unimaginable technologies has a lot of people worried about what work will look like in the future and whether the current workforce is prepared to survive the ongoing disruption of the economy. With that in mind, Google has announced a commitment to donate $1 billion in grants and 1 million hours of Googlers’ volunteer time over the next five years to nonprofit organizations dedicated to training US workers and building businesses for the future of work.
TechCrunch’s Brian Heater covers the announcement, which Google CEO Sundar Pichai made at an event in Pittsburgh — a place where the topics of economic disruption and technological displacement are very salient:
The location of the event will not be lost on anyone who has followed Pittsburgh’s growth over the last few decades. The Steel City has long served as an ideal example of an economy that’s rebounded from the brink of disaster. In Pittsburgh’s case, technology was a primary driver, thanks to Carnegie Mellon, which has helped transform it from post-Rust Belt depression to one of the country’s leading tech hubs. These days, the walls of Pittsburgh’s former factories house cutting-edge innovations in fields like robotics and autonomous driving. …
The company is committing $10 million to Goodwill as part of the initiative — the largest Google.org has committed to one organization. That money will be used to help launch the Goodwill Digital Career Accelerator, aimed at preparing the American workforce for high-tech jobs. Grow with Google also will take the form of a national tour hosted by libraries and community organizations aimed at bringing training and career advice directly to local towns and cities.
According to the announcement, the initiative’s overarching goal is to “give anyone in America the tools and training they need to get a job, for free”: