AI is coming and it’s okay: Sticking a pin in the AI hype

Preparing the c-suite for the future workplace

Matt Watts, Director of Technology and Strategy

The financial services is no stranger to digital disruption – and the AI revolution will certainly not leave this sector untouched. But as the hype grows and the endless applications are considered, it’s time to draw a line in the sand and address the reality on the ground. What will the future workforce look like and how can businesses prepare? The first step is to understand both the business opportunity and the human implications –and then to bring everyone on board. Easy, right?

In the financial services industry, digital transformation is as much about survival as it is about thriving.

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AI enables businesses to gather vital insights and bridge essential requirements in a data-driven world.

From GDPR compliance to customer service chatbots, AI is streamlining business operations, while boosting productivity and efficiencies across a number of industries. It will create an opportunity for those affected to gain and develop new and more diverse skills – and even give precious time back to us humans.

Matt Watts
Matt Watts

The reality is that AI is a global phenomenon which must be taken seriously. China has made its intentions clear when it comes to stealing the AI crown, having announced its intention to be a world leader in AI by 2030. Apart from creating over 10,000 AI research papers in 2015 alone, with the largest population in the world China has access to more data than any other nation – a prerequisite for training machine learning. However, the USA is leading the way with tech goliaths such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft investing heavily in AI. As the hunt to acquire the top talent continues, these companies are expanding. For instance, in June 2015 Facebook opened an AI lab in Paris to supplement its New York and Silicon Valley bases. This will allow Facebook to soak up some of the top talents in AI and machine learning software development that Europe has to offer. That said, according to research recently launched by CognitionX,‘ London: The AI Growth Capital of Europe’, London is home to double the number of AI companies than its closest rivals Paris and Berlin combined.

Taking a cross sector view, AI adoption is mirroring the general move towards digital transformation – it is essentially the next step on from digitisation. So, while all sectors have something to gain from AI investments, with the likes of healthcare bringing tangible benefits such as accessible healthcare thanks to doctors’ apps,it is the sectors that have already established themselves within the digital realm that are best placed to exploit them. According to a McKinsey report, there is high adoption of AI in telecoms, automotive and financial services; retail, CPG (consumer packaged goods) and media are classed as medium adopters. It might be surprising that healthcare is in the lower ranks of AI adoption, considering the human impact of such investments. However, one of the key characteristics of early AI adopters at least for now is a focus on growth over savings.

One of the big concerns surrounding AI is its perceived potential to outsmart humans. You could view Google’s AlphaGo-playing AI system winning against the grandmaster in March 2016 as a catalyst for this. Or the impressive ability to learn the art of creativity, as the development of Cambridge Consultants’ ‘Vincent’ demonstrates – which is capable of completing a drawing that has been started with a human sketch. But it is important to remember that while AI is exceptional at analysing patterns, when it comes to replicating complex systems like the human brain, we are not yet replaceable.

AI should be complementary to the workforce. It will ultimately impact organisations across the value chain from forecasting to optimised production, targeted marketing and enhanced user experiences. But, the focus should be on how businesses upskill human workforces to take advantage of these benefits, which will mainly be realised on the administrative side. How can businesses then transform a workforce with this recovered time and energy to focus on the more creative, strategic or social elements? Businesses that can implement an AI strategy that extracts the true value of their data, tailors it effectively to their organisation and utilises their human workforce more effectively will have a clear competitive edge. Already early adopters have a major advantage. With time on their side in terms of machine learning and the increased agility to meet business demands.

Technological disruption will always be disconcerting for the workforce, as we have seen over the decades. Managed well though, business leaders can champion AI technology and its business benefits, educating their employees on what it means for them. Transparency and training to help prepare employees for any changes will be essential when it comes to gaining trust. Soft skills will become increasingly important, like adaptability and flexibility. By evolving team culture to reflect the needs of the future workplace now, businesses can help their workforce through a smoother transition.

An important point to remember in this discussion is the reality of modern workloads. With employees often overloaded and employers often reluctant to invest in additional team members to share the load, the addition of AI to the workforce could be both a human and business solution. Unburdening employees from the more laborious, administrative tasks could either give them more time to focus on the more strategic or creative tasks – or simply give them time back and enable a shorter working day. This would improve employee satisfaction as well as productivity.

The retraining and upskilling of employees should be viewed as a long-term investment. They will need to understand how best to utilise data-driven insights that have been turbocharged by AI technology. This cultural transformation takes time, and helping employees adjust to collaborating with machines as co-workers should not be underestimated.

Looking ahead, with a good dose of realism: we are only beginning to comprehend the possibilities of AI and the so-called AI revolution is only in its infancy. Once legal, ethical and regulatory challenges are fully understood, businesses will be free to develop the technology more quickly, in a way that is beneficial in both an economic and social sense.

AI will undoubtedly change the way we work and the way we do business. It will lighten the load for employees weighed down by the administrative tasks. Employees will become life-long learners in order to pivot between jobs as business accelerates. While it sounds like a lot to comprehend now, there is much to be gained from a transition towards collaboration with an AI workforce. The true implications will be defined by businesses, their leaders and employees.

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