SINGAPORE (May 3): VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – a term originally coined by the American military to describe what today’s leaders must cope with, has quickly become a way to describe the socio-economic landscape.
Evolving technology, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, is one of the reasons for this move towards increased complexity and volatility. As automation makes many manual and repetitive tasks obsolete, the call for a ‘skills-revolution’ has become louder.
At the 2018 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, Alibaba’s Jack Ma said that the knowledge-based education approach from 200 years ago would fail children in the future, making them unable to compete with machines. He called for educators to teach soft skills like independent thinking, values, and team work.
But what about today’s workers? How are they dealing with change?
Change is afoot for those already in the nine-to-five grind
Businesses today need more from all employees. From HR staff to logistics personnel, everyone is being asked to think beyond their traditional job scope.
Let’s take accounting for example. Automation is freeing up accountants’ time, and businesses want more from their accountants. Beyond number crunching, our Practice of Now 2018 research showed that 42% of businesses also expect their accountant to provide business strategy and advice. Business strategy, growth planning and future vertical industry trends are all areas that accountants are being expected to input on with knowledge and confidence.
The same is bound to happen in other parts of the organisation. Marketing, supply chain, HR, customer service and many other departments are expected to collaborate to solve problems holistically. Many people are managing this evolution in their jobs with mix of anticipation and trepidation.
To ensure their relevance for the future it’s important for today’s workers to understand and build their own strategic value. Unfortunately, many workers have their blinders on as they get through their day-to-day tasks, missing this crucial piece of the puzzle.
Understand and build your strategic value
Different people bring different strengths and problem-solving approaches to the table. It’s important that you understand your strengths and how to use them to help the organization achieve its goals.
Let’s go back to the accounting example. Accountants have clear sight into a company's profits, losses and operational expenditure, giving them a bird’s-eye view of what growth strategies are working, and which aren’t. This vantage point is unique, and accountants can be a fantastic source of information and insight.
As an accountant you could use your numbers-driven outlook to advise the company on new markets, calculate the risk versus benefit of launching new products and services, and determine which parts of a company require investment.
This high-level decision making will no doubt be an intimidating prospect for some, but this is where we are headed. Other business functions are rapidly changing too. For example, customer service and other front-office roles have been shaken up with the arrival of chatbots. Chatbots can handle a much larger volume of customer requests and have freed up budgets and customer service managers’ time, as well as improved service across many sectors including banking, telco and utilities, and last-mile delivery.
With their ‘smart’ capabilities, chatbots have also helped organisations significantly improve processes. For example, Pegg, the world’s first accounting chatbot, enables organisations to better manage their billing and payments, accounting and cashflow. Powered by artificial intelligence, it helps businesses reduce the time spent on business administrative tasks, allowing them to focus their productivity on growing the business instead.
Preparing for change
In preparing for the future, workers today must shed their indifference to technology. Instead, they need to embrace what it means for them – more time and more opportunity to create value.
Customer service managers, for example, can decide what to do with their newly freed up time.
Are there common questions that customers always ask, and is there a way to make it them to find the information they need? Can data from chatbots be analysed to improve customer experience? How can stronger customer relationship and management processes be put in place to support big-picture loyalty programmes?
Answering these questions is hard work. Any change is hard work. But ultimately, the rewards are worth it.
Being strategic, thinking beyond their traditional remit and being unrelenting about improving processes can put you on the fast-track to the boardroom.
Progress waits for no one, and with the Willis Tower Watson estimating that automation will likely account for 29% of all work done in Singapore, we need to find ways to remain relevant or risk becoming obsolete.
This was further reinforced in this year’s Budget, where Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that the accounting sector will get its own Industry Digital Plan to guide SMEs on staying on top of technology developments. The announcement is effectively a reminder to us that those willing to embrace the shift to automation by reinventing their jobs will be at the forefront of future business leadership, while those that resist it risk being left behind.
Sushil Singh is Chief Growth Officer at Sage Asia