Scientist Stephen Hawking: Artificial intelligence research crucial to the human race. Maybe so, but not this year. We are, however, going to witness another step change in the way we do business. Artificial intelligence (AI), big data and the internet of things will move along the hype curve and become everyday life. Game-changing bots will break down the barrier between humans and machines. High and persistent levels of innovation will become the new standard, which will have an enormous impact on talent.
A new breed
AI is the driving force, with voice recognition the cornerstone of 2017’s tech revolution. Talking will replace tapping. Siri and Google Now have been around for a while, but the latest bots are upping the ante, aiming not just to mimic humans but to better them. This wholesale switch to conversational user interfaces will have a massive impact on the customer experience. Whether it is ordering your favourite takeaway, controlling your household gadgetry remotely, configuring product options before buying, or posting a help desk query, bots will be sophisticated enough to process most customer interactions.
This will also result in job losses, such as call centre and customer service operators, but that doesn’t mean overall employment levels will necessarily shrink. Companies will redeploy people where they can improve process efficiency and add value to the customer experience.
New roles will include UX designers and data scientists, where people with front-line experience can be retrained to perfect the customer journey and maximise sales. While AI will remove friction from the customer experience, there is a trade-off: to receive a truly personalised experience, customers must share more confidential data, so cyber security will demand even more manpower and investment.
Further up the management chain, the emphasis will be on agility. “Omnipresent change” is the new norm and company leaders will need to react quickly to opportunities and threats, ensuring that the entire organisation pivots rapidly. New roles, such as the chief customer officer and chief innovation officer, will be created, with technology firmly at the core. Being agile requires totally open minds and the courage to adapt and change direction, as well as leaders who can inspire and engage so that vital and scarce talent stays on board.
The velocity of change demands that leaders embrace different cultures and diversity of thought. They need to be comfortable with disruption and can no longer stick rigidly to a long-term roadmap. Leadership teams need to have their fingers on the pulse or risk being rendered “yesterday’s brand”.
It is not just leaders who need to adapt but the entire organisation. Monolithic, hierarchical structures belong in the past. Companies will need to build nimble, flatter, cross functional (rather than siloed) teams, so that the leadership remains close to product management, innovation and the voice of the customer. That way, when the chief executive needs to react to changes in the market, it is more like turning a Segway than an oil tanker.
Hawking provides a warning to business: companies that fail to react to the technologies that drive customer behaviour and loyalty face swift extinction.