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Robots will force a rethink on jobs

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In PwC’s latest report on the impact of automation, up to 38% of jobs in the US are at risk, with Germany (35%) and the UK (30%) not far behind, forcing us to rethink how secure our jobs really are, writes DANIEL SCHWARTZKOPFF, Co-Founder: DataProphet.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will dramatically reshape the world of work and force us to rethink our approach to our careers, our lives, and our aspirations. With a global market estimated to reach $70 billion by 2020, machine learning is driving fundamental change in the way every industry operates. Learning algorithms are already pioneering advances in customer service, manufacturing, healthcare, auditing, legal counsel, and insurance underwriting, with more industries to follow.

Old notions of job security have all but disappeared: the thought of working for the same company for 40 years until retirement is laughable. In 1965, corporations remained in the S&P 500 Index for an average of 33 years; by 2012 this had already shrunk to 18 years. With the rapid pace of development bankrupting and displacing large behemoths like Kodak and Blockbuster, no one should be under the illusion that a company is too big to fail.

Rise of the machines

In PwC’s latest report on the impact of automation, up to 38% of jobs in the US are at risk, with Germany (35%) and the UK (30%) not far behind. And it’s not manual labour that is most in peril: accountants, lawyers, call centre agents, machine operators, and insurance underwriters are at or near the top of lists of jobs most likely to become redundant thanks to machines.

In response, it is likely that the governments will start implementing policies to protect an already fragile job market. However, the commercial benefits of automation are vast and far-reaching. In an example recently cited by the World Economic Forum, a Chinese factory in Dongguan City replaced 90% of its workforce with machines, leading to an incredible 250% boost in productivity, with defects reduced by 80%.

Governments need to take a more forward-looking approach and find innovative ways of incentivising and equipping people to educate themselves. Learning the types of skills unlikely to be replaced by machines in the coming years is critical – especially here in Africa.

SA / Africa most vulnerable

South Africa’s latest unemployment figures paint a bleak picture: the official rate is 27.7%, or 6.2 million people who want to work but can’t find employment. A closer look, however, will reveal that the vast majority of the unemployed are without a tertiary education. Among graduates the unemployment rate is a mere 7.3%.

To help stimulate job creation, government and industry have worked hard at establishing a business process outsourcing (BPO) industry as a key job creator and economic driver. One industry body claims the sector already employs more than 30 000 people, and aims to grow this to 80 000 by 2021. Considering most of the outsourced jobs are in call centres and customer service, it is alarming that so much effort is being put into industries that are most at risk of automation.

Across the continent, explosive population growth is expected to bring a further 122 million people into the workforce by 2020. Due to shortcomings in the continent’s education sector, these workers are likely to be overwhelmingly unskilled or semi-skilled. Absorbing 122 million people into formal economic activity will be paramount to the continent’s on-going development and prosperity.

We need an urgent change in how we approach skills development and work.

Rethinking our approach to work

Those wishing to future-proof their careers should stop relying on traditional notions of work. Many of the skills required for the future – such as data science and machine learning – are not yet formally offered at university level, and even where they are the industry changes so quickly that by the time a student exits a four-year degree, much of their knowledge is already outdated. In response, we should all aspire to a lifelong approach to learning.

Developing skills in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) fields, as well as arts and humanities – where machines will struggle with replicating design, creation, empathy, and problem-solving thought – represents workers’ best defence against automation. Taking up online courses in specific fields that teach you marketable skills, for example, is one cost-effective way of empowering this new wave of jobseekers.

Encouragingly, many modern tech companies no longer look solely at academic transcripts and qualifications as the main benchmark of your employability. Instead, practical tests are given that gauge a candidate’s actual ability to complete work-related tasks and think creatively and laterally.

New skills for new jobs

This shift in skills development and training may pose severe challenges to those job seekers who are unable to pursue self-learning opportunities. Government, schools, and universities should therefore modernise their approach to training and education to ensure our immense talent pool is not left under- or unutilised.

It is certain that some jobs will be disrupted – even eliminated – by automation. Workers will need to develop a new mix of skills to meet the demands of entirely new job functions created in the course of our technological progress. Opposing progress to preserve automatable jobs is futile – it would not be wise to be remembered as the Luddites of the 21st century.

In a positive sign, 94% of executives surveyed in a recent study agreed that when administrative tasks are automated, the demand for jobs that require soft skills – such as creative problem-solving, collaboration, and communication – will grow.

It’s high time we overhaul our education and skills development sector. The alternative – millions of unemployed and unemployable people – is too frightening to contemplate.

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IoT at starting gate

South Africa is already past the Internet of Things (IoT) hype cycle and well into the mainstream, writes MARK WALKER, associate vice president of Sub-Saharan Africa at International Data Corporation (IDC).

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Projects and pilots are already becoming a commercial reality, tying neatly into the 2017 IDC prediction that 2018 would be the year when the local market took IoT mainstream. Over the next 12-18 months, it is anticipated that IoT implementations will continue to rise in both scope and popularity. Already 23% are in full deployment with 39% in the pilot phase. The value of IoT has been systematically proven and yet its reputation remains tenuous – more than 5% of companies are reluctant to put their money where the trend is – thanks to the shifting sands of IoT perception and success rate.

There are several reasons behind why IoT implementations are failing. The biggest is that organisations don’t know where to start. They know that IoT is something they can harness today and that it can be used to shift outdated modalities and operations. They are aware of the benefits and the case studies. What they don’t know is how to apply this knowledge to their own journey so their IoT story isn’t one of overbearing complexity and rising costs.

Another stumbling block is perception. Yes, there is the futuristic potential with the talking fridge and intelligent desk, but this is not where the real value lies. Organisations are overlooking the challenges that can be solved by realistic IoT, the banal and the boring solutions that leverage systems to deliver on business priorities. IoT’s potential sits within its ability to get the best out of assets and production efficiencies, solving problems in automation, security, and environment.

In addition to this, there is a lack of clarity around return on investment, uncertainty around the benefits, a lack of executive leadership, and concerns around security and the complexities of regulation.  Because IoT is an emerging technology there remains a limited awareness of the true extent of its value proposition and yet 66% of organisations are confident that this value exists.

This percentage poses both a problem and opportunity. On one hand, it showcases the local shift in thinking towards IoT as a technology worth investing into. On the other hand, many companies are seeing the competition invest and leaping blindly in the wrong direction. Stop. IoT is not the same for every business.

It is essential that every company makes its own case for IoT based on its needs and outcomes. Does agriculture have the same challenges as mining? Does one mining company have the same challenges as another? The answer is no. Organisations that want their IoT investment to succeed must reject the idea that they can pick up where another has left off. IoT must be relevant to the business outcome that it needs to achieve. While some use cases may apply to most industries based on specific circumstances, there are different realities and priorities that will demand a different approach and starting point.

Ask – what is the business problem right now and how can technology be leveraged to resolve it?

In the agriculture space, there is a need to improve crop yields and livestock management, improve farm productivity and implement environmental monitoring. In the construction and mining industry, safety and emergency response are a priority alongside workforce and production management. Education shifts the lens towards improving delivery and quality of education, access to advanced learning methods and reducing the costs of learning.  Smart cities want to improve traffic and efficiently deliver public services and healthcare is focusing on wellness, reducing hospital admissions and the security of assets and inventory management.

The technology and solutions selected must speak to these specific challenges.

If there are no insights used to create an IoT solution, it’s the equivalent of having the fastest Ferrari on Rivonia Road in peak traffic. It makes a fantastic noise, but it isn’t going to move any faster than the broken-down sedan in the next lane. Everyone will be impressed with the Ferrari, but the amount of power and the size of the investment mean nothing. It’s in the wrong place.

What differentiates the IoT successes is how a company leverages data to deliver meaningful value-added predictions and actions for personalised efficiencies, convenience, and improved industry processes. To move forward the organisation needs to focus on the business outcomes and not just the technology. They need to localise and adapt by applying context to the problem that’s being solved and explore innovation through partnerships and experimentation.

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ERP underpins food tracking

The food traceability market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2022 as increased consumer awareness, strict governance requirements, and advances in technology are resulting in growing standardisation of the segment, says STUART SCANLON, managing director of epic ERP

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Just like any data-driven environment, one of the biggest enablers of this is integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

As the name suggests, traceability is the ability to track something through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. When it comes to the food industry, traceability must also enable stakeholders to identify the source of all food inputs that can include anything from raw materials, additives, ingredients, and packaging.

Considering the wealth of data that all these facets generate, it is hardly surprising that systems and processes need to be put in place to manage, analyse, and provide actionable insights. With traceability enabling corrective measures to be taken (think product recalls), having an efficient system is often the difference between life or death when it comes to public health risks.

Expansive solutions

Sceptics argue that traceability simply requires an extensive data warehouse to be done correctly, the reality is quite different. Yes, there are standard data records to be managed, but the real value lies in how all these components are tied together.

ERP provides the digital glue to enable this. With each stakeholder audience requiring different aspects of traceability (and compliance), it is essential for the producer, distributor, and every other organisation in the supply chain, to manage this effectively in a standardised manner.

With so many different companies involved in the food cycle, many using their own, proprietary systems, just consider the complexity of trying to manage traceability. Organisations must not only contend with local challenges, but global ones as well as the import and export of food are big business drivers.

So, even though traceability is vital to keep track of everything in this complex cycle, it is also imperative to monitor the ingredients and factories where items are produced. Having expansive solutions that must track the entire process from ‘cradle to grave’ is an imperative. Not only is this vital from a safety perspective, but from cost and reputational management aspects as well. Just think of the recent listeriosis issue in South Africa and the impact it has had on all parties in that supply chain.

Efficiency improvements

Thanks to the increasing digital transformation efforts by companies in the food industry, traceability becomes a more effective process. It is no longer a case of using on-premise solutions that can be compromised but having hosted ones that provide more effective fail-safes.

In a market segment that requires strict compliance and regulatory requirements to be met, cloud-based solutions can provide everyone in the supply chain with a more secure (and tamper-resistant) solution than many of the legacy approaches of old.

This is not to say ERP requires the one or the other. Instead, there needs to be a transition provided between the two scenarios that empowers those in the food supply chain to maximise the insights (and benefits) derived from traceability.

Now, more than ever, traceability is a business priority. Having the correct foundation through effective ERP is essential if a business can manage its growth and meet legislative requirements into the future.

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