Technology Will Be The Maker Or Breaker Of Business In 2017

by Jon White

In 2017, we are going to witness another technology revolution and a step change in the way we do business. Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and the Internet of Things will move up the hype curve to everyday life. Game changing bots will break down the barrier between humans and machines and bridge the gap between physical and digital worlds. Innovation will become the new standard and that is going to have a big impact on talent at every level.

Artificial Intelligence is the driving force

Voice recognition is the essence of this technology revolution. Talking will replace tapping. Siri and Google Now have been around for a while, but the latest bots are upping the ante, aiming not just to mimic humans but to better them. This wholesale switch to conversational user interfaces will have a massive impact on the customer experience. Whether it is ordering your favourite takeaway, controlling your household gadgetry remotely, configuring product options before buying, or posting a helpdesk query, bots will be sophisticated enough to process most customer interactions. 

The inexorable rise of artificial intelligence will affect the workforce from top to bottom. A host of jobs will be lost, such as call centre and customer service operators, but that does not necessarily mean that employment levels overall will shrink. Many companies will seek to redeploy people where they can improve process efficiency and add value to the customer experience. New roles will burgeon, including UX designers and data scientists, where people with front line experience can be retrained to perfect the customer journey and maximise sales. While artificial intelligence will remove friction from the customer experience, there is a trade-off: to receive a truly personalised experience, customers must share more confidential data, so cyber security is another area that will demand extra manpower and investment.

The C-suite must shape up to the challenge

Further up the management chain, the emphasis will be on agility. Omnipresent change is the new norm and company leaders will need to react quickly to opportunities and threats, ensuring that the entire organisation pivots rapidly.  New roles - such as the Chief Customer Officer and Chief Innovation Officer – need to be created with technology firmly at the core. Companies that fail to be truly customer centric are in danger of becoming the next Blackberry or Kodak. Being agile requires a totally open mind, the courage to adapt and change direction - exemplified by survivors like IBM, Apple and Nokia - and leaders that can inspire and engage so that vital talent stays on board.   

The velocity of change demands that leaders embrace different cultures and diversity of thought. They need to be comfortable with disruption and can no longer stick rigidly to a long-term roadmap. Technology is a major catalyst in this new business world where the unpredictable is expected and leadership teams need to have their fingers on the pulse or risk being rendered ‘yesterday’s brand’.  As Graeme Codrington, co-founder of TomorrowToday, says: “Just as a marathon runner might not be successful in a triathlon, so too a leader who is successful in one environment may struggle in a different one.  In business it is often the marketplace that shifts quickly, creating new contexts. When the context changes, leaders who do not adapt find themselves qualified to succeed in a world that no longer exists.”

Optimising organisational design for agility

It is not just leaders who need to adapt, but the entire organisation. Monolithic, hierarchical  structures belong in the past. Companies will need to build nimble, flatter, cross functional (rather than siloed) teams, so that the leadership remains close to product management, innovation and the voice of the customer. That way, when the CEO needs to re-set the compass to react to changes in the market, it is more like turning a Segway around than an oil tanker.

It’s what some people call ‘design thinking’. In The Times Raconteur’s recent report on ‘The Future CEO’, Nat Sones describes ‘design thinking’ as “escalating design principles outside product to empower anyone creating ideas to create for customer needs first, solve complex challenges, drive value and, perhaps above all, create and mobilise a flexible culture fit for addressing today’s digitally transforming world.” At the end of his article, he neatly sums up the implications of ‘design thinking’ on the retail, banking, manufacturing and healthcare sectors:

Stephen Hawking once said that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of humans.” Maybe so, but not next year. However, companies that fail to react to the technological context that drives customer behaviour and loyalty will face extinction far sooner. There has been much talk of the new genre of millennial leader possessing a potent mix of IQ, EQ (Emotional) and CQ (Commercial). Surely, an equal measure of TQ (Technological) is now a must?