I was heartened to see that our UK PM, in her Davos Speech, wants to create a “Centre of Excellence” in the UK with respect to AI. There are certainly some huge opportunities to improve our UK productivity and make our lives easier. This was also reinforced with the recent “Sales Assistant Free” shop that Amazon have piloted in the US, and the new scanning till piloted in North London. However, any new idea or technology requires acceptance before it can implemented fully or properly. This is more pertinent than ever because with the ever increasing “Robotisation” comes fear of job losses. We first had it with blue collar in manufacturing and engineering, then in white collar with low level transactional work, but we are now progressing into higher end transactional work. Large law firms are already using AI to scan databases of previous contracts in order to automatically come up with first revision new contracts for a particular client. We are in a rapidly changing world where VUCA applies, and it is the survival of the most adaptable, not the fittest. We have already seen huge productivity gains related to tech in the UK, and AI is the next step.
I was lucky enough to attend a recent IoD Suffolk AI event at Adastral Science Park in Ipswich where there are over 90 tech companies working on AI and related work. The speakers were very engaging, and Kevin Gooding of OXEMS, who has considerable experience of mass technology change roll-outs and working on IoT solutions, stated that the technology functionality is usually way ahead of the humans, and the adoption rate historically is very slow. This is a double edged sword. On the one hand, we want adoption rate to be fast in order to minimise barriers to productivity improvement, but also we need to ensure workers do not feel left out or alienated. I see this is as one of the greatest challenges going forward i.e., finding that sweet spot between the two. Everything is a balance, but this is where senior leaders have to step up to the plate and be honest about tech advances and the impact on society. It has been refreshing that both Sir Charlie Mayfield Chairman of John Lewis Partnership, and Juergen Maier CEO of Siemens UK have been talking about the need for open dialogue with employees, and both the challenges and opportunities for AI.
As consultants in this arena we are going to have to gear up for the changes, not just from a technology perspective but from an employee engagement success perspective.