Tony Boobier is a former worldwide technology executive who now provides advisory and mentoring services to new and established organizations. Qualified in engineering, insurance, marketing, and supply chain management, he has a particular interest in European, Asian, and Latin American markets. Independently identified as a global thought leader, he is the author of four published books on the topics of AI and analytics, including ‘Advanced Analytics and AI: Impact, Implementation and the Future of Work’. His ‘lockdown project’ comprised his 4th book ‘AI and the Future of the Public Sector’ which was released in August 2022. He lives near London. www.tonyboobier.co.uk.
If someone cannot add personal value to a work function or process, then their role is likely to be automated.
It might sound a bit drastic or even dystopian but in a world of data, analytics and the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI), this idea is thought by some to be an inevitable outcome. Internet lawyer Robert Cannon also suggested nearly a decade ago, ‘Anything which can be automated will be automated’.
Since Cannon expressed that viewpoint in 2014, there’s been an exponential increase in the amount of structured and unstructured data being created. Advanced analytics and AI are now seen as the main way that sense can be made from the vast and growing amount of information. Data is the intellectual fuel that feeds technology systems which are increasingly able to learn by themselves, and which helps transform routine processes by automating them.
Gaining new insights from the data isn’t enough by itself. It’s important that action is taken from what is learned. This might comprise simple changes to existing operations but on a grander scale might also be the reaffirming of existing strategies, the creation of new ones, or the use of corrective action where strategic targets are at risk of being missed.
The advent of 5G and imminently 6G communications will add to the amount of data, of which 80% or more is unstructured. Unstructured data is taken to mean textual or non-textual data such as visual or voice data, and which sits outside preset database formats. Some say that the greatest source of competitive advantage rests with those organisations that are most able to obtain insight from this massive pool of unstructured data, typically about their market or what the customer really thinks about their product or service.
For business leaders, this new world of data, analytics and AI represents a new industrial revolution. One particular challenge for executives is the extent of their knowledge and understanding about the likely full extent of the implications. Even if traditional key strategic imperatives of improved efficiency, better profitability and reduced risk remain mainly the same as they always were, new analytical methods are increasingly being used to achieve them.
For some, these new approaches can be both baffling and complicated. Fortunately, executives don’t need to have a detailed knowledge of how these technologies work but they do however need to be sufficiently aware of them so as to be able to recognise the implications and how to apply them to their own business environment.
Increased emphasis on data has not only opened the door to new insight but also has created new areas of vulnerability, that of cyber-crime. In what is an increasingly connected world, each new device, be it in the office, home or factory, is a potential weakness in the system and a possible point of entry for the cyber-criminal. It’s essential that systems and behavior of employee are cyber compliant and although rigid internal compliance rules might seem at times to be an extreme reaction, the end without doubt justifies the means. Breaches of data regulation or loss of sensitive information can be both costly and embarrassing. Beyond this, damage to reputation ranks high in the fears of executives. After all, who wants to be the boss of a ‘leaky’ organisation?
Despite the uncertainty of current times, the executive still needs to have a clear vision of the future. Perhaps one version of this vision is one of leading an analytical organization which uses data, top to bottom, to provide insight and to inform decisions. One particular critical aspect is that of being able to effectively implement that vision. Some suggest that success is about having 20% vision and 80% excellent implementation capabilities.
The ability to effectively communicate organisational and technological change is a critical success factor as is the ability to be able to accurately measure the benefit of change. There will always be those who need to be convinced about the benefits which have been obtained. A successful advanced analytics or AI programme is not only dependent on its ability to create improvements but also that there is a ‘single version of the truth’ in terms of what has been achieved. An effective performance management system is essential to ensure universal agreement about what has changed, and to prevent dispute regarding the accuracy of any benefits which are being claimed.
Executives might also reasonably ask how do experience and intuition contribute in this new industrial revolution. Both of these have a part to play but it’s getting more complicated. In today’s business marketplace. Executives now need to be able to effectively combine a blend of data insight, experience and intuition as they manage their business. In a volatile and changing world, experience and intuition are unlikely to be enough by themselves to ensure success, and insight from data driven systems has become an essential part of the executive toolbox.
Coping with a shifting business landscape, at the same time as massive technological change, comprises one of the greatest professional challenges that modern executives are likely to meet. Being a CXO during this new industrial revolution is a time in their career that they are unlikely to forget in a hurry. Whilst there might be a temptation to wait and see what happens, the expression ‘carpe diem’ or ‘seize the day’ has never been more appropriate.