By Stefano Bensi, General Manager, Softbank Robotics EMEA
As we enter this new decade, business leaders across all sectors continue to prioritise digital transformation as a way to create efficiencies, improve customer service, ensure regulatory compliance and drive innovation. Organisations recognise that in order to stay competitive in an increasingly turbulent global economy, they need to embrace new technologies and operational models in order to thrive in the future economy.
The narrative around wide-scale adoption of automation and AI technologies has largely been one of fear and uncertainty to date, with reports of mass job displacement on the horizon. The widely held view, too often perpetuated by mainstream media, has been that the robots are coming to take our jobs in a strange and often bleak future world. In my opinion, this is why many digital transformation programmes have yet to deliver on their promises, held back by a lack of understanding and buy-in amongst people at the coalface, resistant to change and reluctant to interact with new technologies,
However, there are signs that the tide is turning and we’re seeing a more considered view of automation. Indeed, it is now widely understood that AI will in fact lead to a net increase in jobs over the coming years. Whilst there will of course be some job changes in specific industries and job roles, AI will also create millions of new specialist and highly skilled jobs.
Without doubt, of far greater significance is the impact that automation will bring to the types of work people carry out on a daily basis. McKinsey predicts that whilst less than 5 percent of all occupations can be automated entirely using current technologies, about 60 percent of all occupations have at least 30 percent of constituent activities that could be automated today. So rather than replacing people, automation and robots will in fact work alongside people within a hybrid workforce model, where operations and tasks are resourced according to the relative strengths of both people and technology.
Over the next decade we will see much closer collaboration between humans and machines within the workplace, with robots and automation increasingly assisting with the repetitive and time-consuming tasks which are such a drain on productivity and staff engagement, and workers being freed up to focus on higher value and more fulfilling activities. The benefits are easy to understand – greater efficiencies, higher employee engagement and improved levels of performance and servicing.
Entering The Age of Cobotics
In order to accelerate this shift to a hybrid workforce model, we need to re-frame the introduction of automation, so that it becomes less of a threat to the existing workforce and is instead embraced as a route to interesting and varied work and developing new skills. Across all sectors we need to reassure vast sections of the workforce that robots and AI can enhance their working lives, rather than hindering them. This is where the concept of cobotics has a big role to play.
Cobotics is the collaboration between workers and machines or robots. Cobots are collaborative robots which carry out repetitive or strenuous tasks which would otherwise be performed by a person, but they work alongside that individual or team, not in their place. Cobots are instructed, controlled and managed by workers on the ground and are there to support workers.
Across a whole range of sectors, the introduction of cobots can (and will) dramatically alter the working lives of people in a wide variety of job roles. Whether it is retail, healthcare, hospitality or cleaning, cobots can take away the most laborious and least pleasurable tasks from human workers and enable them to focus their efforts elsewhere, on more rewarding and valuable work. We’re already seeing this happening in a number of sectors where forward-thinking organisations are introducing cobots into their operational models.
Within such a human-cobot workforce, businesses reap the benefits of both machines (in terms of efficiency, consistency and performance in carrying out repetitive tasks), and of human workers, with their capacity for objective thought, creativity and problem solving. And in an ever more challenging labour market, where high quality talent is in such demand in so many industries, it makes sense to have your best (and expensive) people focused on activities which make a real impact.
In The Age of Cobotics, machines assist with the grunt work and people are freed up to make a genuine difference and pursue more fulfilling working lives.
Innovation beyond technology
Too often businesses approach innovation from solely a technological perspective; but equally as important is a willingness to embrace new ideas and adopt new business models. Organisations today need to embed agility and scalability into all areas of their operations, ensuring they have the flexibility to adapt to market dynamics, exploiting new opportunities and reacting swiftly to new threats.
As organisations introduce cobotics into their operations, they will also seek out more innovative and flexible leasing models, rather than traditional procurement methods, with large capital expenditures and little certainty around long-term life-span and value. With cobotics, we will see innovative business models allowing organisations to access the very latest technologies without major upfront investment; and all servicing and product upgrades included, taking away the hassle and cost of ongoing maintenance. In addition, cobots can collect valuable data which can be translated into meaningful insight to ensure operations are continually optimised and to make faster, smarter decisions.
Indeed, cobotics is as much about a commitment to innovation, smart working and efficient operations, as it is about automation and robots. It requires a major shift in thinking, amongst both business leaders and the workers who are engaging with cobots in the workplace.
This cultural change is important and businesses need to ensure they have the right strategies in place to influence behaviours and mindsets across the organisation to ensure that cobotics is harnessed in a smooth and seamless way. Technology providers have a role to play here, helping business leaders to manage change, and to reassure, educate and upskill people to work effectively and harmoniously alongside cobots.
The Cobotic Difference
Rather than bringing in automation by stealth, in The Age of Cobotics we are seeing organisations making a virtue of their adoption of cobots and the shift towards a hybrid human-cobot workforce model, to attract new talent, particularly amongst younger generations of workers.
The message is that these organisations can offer people more interesting and fulfilling work, with less time spent on mundane and repetitive tasks. Cobotics demonstrates a commitment to employee wellbeing at a time when mental and physical health in the workplace is becoming an ever-more pressing concern for businesses and public health authorities. The World Health Organization estimates that the global economic impact of depression and anxiety is US$1 trillion every year and organisations across all sectors are struggling to address and promote health and wellbeing at work and beyond.
Cobotics removes the strain and stress of certain manual tasks, whilst putting people in the driving seat, making decisions and managing technology, rather than the other way around.
It also gives relatively inexperienced or low-skilled people the opportunity to work alongside cutting-edge technology and to develop specialist skills and knowledge.
However, it isn’t just prospective workers that will be drawn to organisations that are embracing cobotics. Such a commitment to innovation and new ways of working is also hugely appealing to prospective customers, whether they be consumers or individuals. Those businesses that are first to integrate cobotics within their operations over the next few years will create genuine differentiation in the market and attract forward-thinking organisations that are looking to align themselves with future ways of working.
Cobotics represents a smarter, more grown-up approach to business and digital transformation; one that harnesses new technology and approaches to deliver efficiencies and increased performance, but also recognises the limitations of automation and AI, and the ongoing need to create an engaged, healthy and productive workforce to work in collaboration with technology. Get this shift to cobotics right and organisations are setting themselves up to thrive in the future.
Investing into a more sustainable future: changing businesses from the inside out
By Shawn Welch, Vice President and General Manager of Hi-Cone Worldwide
As industries across the world are facing unprecedented uncertainty and anticipating the economic implications of the current health crisis, business leaders have the unique opportunity to seize the chance to make lasting, positive changes and re-interpret the business challenges in a positive way – without forgetting or minimising the toll the pandemic has taken. When trying to identify a way forward, the future must be sustainable. We must take this opportunity to find a more sustainable way for businesses and manufacturers to survive.
Environmental and economic concern have only increased the gap on what consumers want – more sustainability – and how much progress businesses can make without risking their viability. However, rather than giving up on ambitious goals, maybe we need to reframe the way we look at sustainability. So far, businesses have tended to react to consumer demands, often without looking into the long-term implications and research-based due diligence one would expect. Therefore, now is the right time to be more deliberate: to continue on the path towards a truly sustainable ‘new normal’, businesses need to consider the bottom line impact more than ever before and truly invest in changing their business models to become more sustainable.
To meet the UN’s ambitious 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, businesses ultimately must thrive – working towards establishing a circular economy remains crucial. Instead of a linear ‘extract, use, dispose’ approach, materials need to be respected and re-used as many times as possible, which is only possible if products are designed for re-use, re-manufacturing, repair or restarting. After all, any and all consumption comes at a price. In manufacturing, processes draw on resources to produce items that, once they have served their purpose, become surplus to requirements. Yet, to ignore this is to take an incomplete view of sustainability: instead, materials are extracted from waste to re-enter production processes. Reuse and recycling initiatives are central to this and great strides have been made in raising awareness of this need. The full environmental cost of production and consumption includes the choice of materials themselves but also the level of carbon emissions generated, and energy consumed.
Once products and processes have redesigned for a circular approach, this initial investment will often easily be recouped, especially if we start with looking at the facts when starting this crucial process. To make the Circular Economy a focus for any business very often means changing the business model. Here, investing in research and development is vital. In the packaging industry, for example, we are seeing that customers and consumers are increasingly more focused on sustainability, and that surprising changes can unlock societal and business value. Through minimising a product’s carbon footprint or making recycling easier for consumers, lifecycle-assessment-based product redesigns or using recycled plastics instead of larger quantities of cardboard, companies are identifying these more creative options and enjoying the long-lasting benefits that come with implementing them. In any case, leadership is key. A research-driven approach gets everyone on-board and seeing management committing to these goals as part of business plans helps cement these. At a recent Reuters Responsible Business Summit virtual panel, I was part of an interesting conversation. Here, Yolanda Malone, Vice President Global R&D Snacks PKG, PepsiCo, discussed how leaders have to drive the behaviours within the organisation and the tone for the culture. She explained that her sustainable plastics vision is a world where plastics never become waste. Only through putting the mantra of “reduce, recycle, rethink and reinvent” can we bring circular products to consumer. She stressed that, if we don’t reinvent, we will fall back into old habits.
Of course, consumer behaviours play a part and the easier the solution, the more likely consumers will get behind it. End consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of packaging. So, to be truly circular, we need to take into account the entire lifecycle. Mindset change needs to continue to happen. Consumers need to be clear about what their choices are. To achieve this, we must change our businesses from the inside out, allowing for close collaboration inside and outside of our organisations. Other organisations – such as governments and recycling organisations – will need to be involved in businesses’ efforts, multiplying the impact our investments will have. We must address all aspects of sustainability and, for example, have better recycling, a focus on infrastructure and emphasis on consumer education. To recover, reuse and recycle, the R&D must be in place and dedicated to sustainability. Partnerships are important as we, as other leading global companies realise, cannot do this alone. Collaboration is key when investing in a more sustainable, more Circular, future.
Securing Information Throughout the Supply Chain – Preventing Supplier Vulnerabilities
By Adam Strange, Data Classification Specialist, HelpSystems
The financial services sector is experiencing extreme disruption coupled with rapid innovation as established institutions strive to become more agile and meet evolving customer demand. At the same time, new market entrants compete fiercely for customers. Increasing operational flexibility, through the deployment of cloud infrastructure or via digital transformation initiatives, is critical for future competitiveness but it has also driven regulatory and security challenges, particularly around working with suppliers.
That said, the benefits of a diverse, interconnected supply chain are compelling: agility, speed, and cost reduction all weigh on the positive side of the equation, prompting financial institutions to pursue close, collaborative relationships with suppliers, often numbering in the hundreds or thousands.
Weakness in the supply chain
On the negative side is the increased cyber threat when enterprises expose their networks to their supply chain. In our modern interconnected digital ecosystems, most financial organisations have many supply chain dependencies and it only takes one of these to have cybersecurity vulnerabilities to bring a business to its knees.
As a result, breaches originating in third parties are common and costly – a Ponemon Institute/IBM study found that breaches being caused by a third party was the top factor that amplified the cost of a breach, adding an average of $370,000 to the breach cost.
Concern around the supply chain was also evidenced in a recent report we have just issued, whereby we interviewed 250 CISOs and CIOs from financial institutions about the cybersecurity challenges they face and nearly half (46%) said that cybersecurity weaknesses in the supply chain had the biggest potential to cause the most damage in the next 12 months.
But sharing information with suppliers is essential for the supply chain to function. Most financial services organisations go to great lengths to secure intellectual property, personally identifiable information (PII) and other sensitive data internally, yet when this information is shared across the supply chain, does it get the same robust attention?
Further amplified by COVID-19
Financial service organisations have always been a key target for cyber attacks. Our research showed that since COVID-19 hit, the risk has elevated further, with 45% of the respondents seeing increased cybersecurity attacks during this period. Likewise, hackers are rejecting frontal assaults on well-defended walls in favour of infiltrating networks via vulnerabilities in suppliers.
But financial services organisations must maintain reputations and ensure customer trust. Firms are keen to demonstrate that they are protecting customer assets, providing an ultra-reliable service and working with trustworthy partners. So, what can they do to better protect their supplier ecosystem?
At the very least, they need to ensure basic controls are implemented around their suppliers’ IT infrastructure. For example, they must ensure suppliers maintain a secure infrastructure with a minimum of Cyber Essentials or the equivalent US CIS certification controls. Cyber Essentials defines a set of controls which, when implemented, provide organisations with basic protection from the most prevalent forms of threats, focusing on threats which require low levels of attacker skill, and which are widely available online.
Likewise, they need to ensure good information management controls are in place and this begins with accurate information/data classification. After all, how can you apply appropriate controls to your information unless you know what it is and where it is?
How ISO27001 helps organisations put in place a data classification process
The international standard on information security, ISO27001, describes the basic ingredients for data classification to ensure the data receives the appropriate level of protection in accordance with its importance to the organisation. It comprises three basic elements:
- Classification of data – in terms of legal requirements, value, criticality and sensitivity to unauthorised disclosure or modification.
- Labelling of data – an appropriate set of procedures for information labelling should be developed and implemented in accordance with the organisation’s information classification scheme.
- Handling of assets – procedures for the handling of assets developed and implemented in accordance with the organisation’s information classification scheme.
Adoption of this methodology will help financial services organisations and their supply chain take a more data-centric information security approach. However, there are essentially four key stages for implementing a data risk assurance supply chain approach and these are:
1. Approval – in organisations with complex supply chains senior management, vendor management, procurement and information security will all need to support a robust risk-based information management approach. Details of previous incidents and their impact alongside the business benefits will be essential to gain stakeholder buy in.
2. Preparation – Organisations should start with Tier 1 suppliers and initially identify the contracts with the highest business impact/risk. They should identify and record information repositories and the data that they contain together with the responsible business owners. Define a business taxonomy based on information categories of that data and include supply chain factors such as what information categories are shared.
For example, they need to understand the business impact of compromise against each of the information categories. Have any suppliers suffered security incidents? What assurance mechanisms are in place? Once all this information is collated the organisation can create a data classification policy and define a set of controls for each data category.
3. Discovery – Select each data category and identify the associated contracts. Then prioritise the data category based on the risk assessment and verify that the data security controls and arrangements for each data category and contract meet the overall requirements. Once complete, hand over the contract for inclusion in the vendor management cycle.
4. Embed process – the overall objective is to embed information risk management into the procurement lifecycle from start to finish. Therefore, whenever a new contract is created there are a number of actions required which embed data risk at each stage of the bid, tender, procurement, evaluation, implementation and termination phases of the contract.
To summarise, organisations should start by researching the information risk and security frameworks such as ISO27001 and others. They should then focus on defining their business taxonomy and data categories together with the business impact of compromise to help develop a data classification scheme. Finally, they should implement the data classification scheme and embed data risk management into the procurement lifecycle processes from start to finish. By effectively embedding data risk management and categorisation into their procurement and vendor management processes, they are preventing their suppliers’ vulnerabilities becoming their own and are more effectively securing data in the supply chain.
Deloitte: Middle East organizations need to rethink their workforce in the wake of COVID-19
Organizations in the Middle East have had to take immediate actions in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as shifting to remote and virtual work, implementing new ways of working and redirecting the workforce on critical activities. According to Deloitte’s 10th annual 2020 Middle East Human Capital Trends report, “The social enterprise at work: Paradox as a path forward,” organizations now need to think about how to sustain these actions by embedding them into their organizational culture.
“COVID-19 has created a clarifying moment for work and the workforce. Organizations that expand their focus on worker well-being, from programs adjacent to work to designing well-being into the work itself, will help their workers not only feel their best but perform at their best. Doing so will strengthen the tie between well-being and organizational outcomes, drive meaningful work, and foster a greater sense of belonging overall,” said Ghassan Turqieh, Consulting Partner, Human Capital, Deloitte Middle East.
According to the Deloitte report, many organizations in the Middle East made quick arrangements to engage with employees in the wake of the pandemic through frequent communications, multiple webinars where senior leaders addressed employee concerns, virtual employee events, manager check-ins, periodic calls and other targeted interactions with the workforce.
The report also discussed how UAE and KSA governments have reexamined work policies and practices, amended regulations and introduced COVID-19 initiatives to support companies and the workforce in the public and private sectors. Flexible and remote working, team-building and engagement activities, well-ness programs, recognition awards and modern workspaces are among the many things that are now adding to the employee experience.
Key findings from the Deloitte global report include:
- Only 17% of respondents are making significant investments in reskilling to support their AI strategy with only 12% using AI primarily to replace workers;
- 27% of respondents have clear policies and practices to manage the ethical challenges resulting from the future of work despite 85% of respondents saying the future of work raises ethical challenges;
- Three-quarters of leaders are expecting to source new skills and capabilities through reskilling, but only 45% are rewarding workers for the development of new skills; and
- Only 45% of respondents are prepared or very prepared to take advantage of the alternative workforce to access key capabilities despite gig workers being likely to comprise 43% of the U.S. workforce this year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Worker well-being is a top priority today, and similarly to the rest of the world, companies in the Middle East are focusing their efforts to redesign work around well-being by understanding workforce well-being needs,” said Rania Abu Shukur, Director, Human Capital, Consulting, Deloitte Middle East.
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