My first post of the year – a look ahead for 2019 – was a bit tongue-in-cheek. Now The World Economic Forum (WEF) is meeting in Davos, Switzerland, I thought I would provide a more insightful analysis.
The WEF will be considering the implications of the 4th Industrial Revolution as the headline theme for their annual conference. If you’re new to all this here is a I4.0 primer from CNBC [Link]. 2019 is going to be a year where industrial innovation takes centre stage.
The thinking from WEF is always good, detailed thorough. I think that some of the crucial themes for unlocking innovative value will be focussed around opportunities and risks. Here are some of my current favourites.
- Using information and reconfigurable platforms to provide new solutions to stakeholder experience. This will establish new ways to create, deliver and consume the core outputs from industrial processes.
- Removing the idea of separation between “IT and the Business”. The two are now conjoined. Being good at tech will be a prerequisite of being good in business. Technology will be embedded in every way that work is done, products are created, consumed and delivered.
- Empowering the front-line will be crucial. The winners will be faster organisations where workers make autonomous decisions and are rewarded for outcomes. As an analogy think of Deliveroo drivers. For many reasons, more refined models of work-coordination are required but the core autonomous nature of the work is being previewed here. Decentralised decision-making and autonomous action guided by technology removes many of the tasks performed by middle management. I hope we will start to see teachers, dentists, doctors and nurses no longer filling in spreadsheets and working as relecutant automatons directed by ill-informed command-and-control resource-allocation systems.
- With power comes responsibility. Without middle management, new forms of controls (and motivation) will be needed to spot problems and reward behaviour. Surprisingly for some, I don’t believe it is the front-line worker, but middle management, that is most under threat from AI, visual computing and big-data. I hope the CFO won’t push progress only on AIQ but that marketing and talent managers will push the AEQ agenda. It’s important we understand not only economics but also pride, satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment.
- Innovation may not be in new forms of technology. The tech available to us now is far ahead of our application of it. Deployment options are already available but not used. Innovation will come from the application of existing technology to new areas of business. Those stuck with old infrastructure will not be able to reconfigure fast enough to keep up. Value will arise from designing new ways of working. Capturing the value will rest on finding ways to get the rest of us to work that way too.
And now the risks
- Innovation will come from networks. Big companies will look to small companies for ideas, small companies will be formed from collaborative networks of individuals. Ideas will be mashed-up to cross-fertilise creativity. Guards must be in place to avoid exploitative situations – if they arise unchecked it will mean that the small-guys can’t and won’t play for long. Without them, brilliant ideas will never be used. Rights management is crucial for the distribution of the value created. In the way that song-writing credits generate performance fees for artists. Licenses for ways-of-working are needed to stimulate innovation, and society needs to enable easy access to legal enforcement to uphold claims against copying without permission.
- Massive generalisation follows: Young people are frustrated by old-people’s inability to embrace new ways of working. Technology savvy folks are orders of magnitude more productive than their peers. They are quicker to make decisions and to multi-task. This leads to not only high-productivity but also to high-error rates. Iterative short-cycle experimentation and learning-by-doing is the hall-mark of agile strategy. This is not an approach that has been adapted to high-risk industrial work-settings. This leads to a clash of culture and an inability to attract and retain talent.
- Innovative individuals will continue to pursue independent careers in increasing numbers. Old industries will die, vested interests will be disenfranchised. The world of work, taxation, social contracts, pensions and access to finance will have to evolve to cope with this. To create a consensus and establish a sense of fairness new-politicians will need not only wisdom but also to deploy the old-tools of oratory and persuasion. There will be big disagreements across society and between nations. It will be necessary to create hope for those who fear being disenfranchised. They will not go quietly into that good night.
- Politics of property will come to the fore – the control of assets will be important. Whether that is physical real-estate where low-paid important workers are unable to afford to live where the people who need them reside; property from an accumulation of historical data that provides an unassailable lead and monopoly positions; or the “IDEA” that one person has spent 10 years creating that is exploited by a large corporation without reward. Society will need to find ways to address the control and distribution of property in a world where labour and working-time may not function as a distribution & motivation method.
I will spend time exploring these themes during the year – I have a number of initiatives already kicking off for the year and I hope that you’ll be able to help.