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Where we still beat machines

We’ll need humans to create bigger, better robots and to make sense of the data the machines churn out. The factory of the future can’t operate without humans, says MATTHEW KIBBY, Vice-President, Enterprise, Africa & Middle East at Sage.

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The World Economic Forum predicts that five million jobs will be lost by 2020 as the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues to transform labour markets.

Most of the casualties will be repetitive manufacturing tasks and those considered dangerous for humans to perform. Robots can do these jobs faster and with greater precision than humans could ever hope to, leading to higher productivity and lower costs – the Holy Grail of manufacturing.

However, we’ll still need humans to operate these machines, to program them and tell them what to do.

We’ll need humans to create bigger, better robots and to make sense of the data the machines churn out. The factory of the future can’t operate without humans. Rather, it will be a safer, more efficient space where machines augment the abilities and skills of humans, to increase output and reduce human error and injury.

Now what?

But where does that leave the rest of us who didn’t study robotics and don’t know how to code software?

Ironically, we’re being forced to be more human, to embrace the skills and attributes that robots can’t yet replicate or do better than us. As more robots enter the workplace, we’ll crave face-to-face interaction, authenticity and human connection more than ever.

While we leave the repetitive, time-consuming back-office tasks to the machines, we’ll be gifted with more time to focus on what’s becoming key for every industry: the customer experience and human interaction.

Managers will have more time to interact with team members. Colleagues will have more time to speak to customers and really understand their needs. HR will have more time to focus on upskilling team members rather than spending hours on on-boarding and payroll. And when we understand and can relate to each other better, we come up with new solutions, new products and better ways of doing things. We create and innovate.

This means that skills like communication, emotional intelligence, strategy, people management, stakeholder interactions, leadership, creativity, entrepreneurship, analysis and decision-making will become more in demand, across all industries.

Growth mindset

We all have a role to play in making the future of work, well, work.

Organisations will need to adopt a culture of learning and upskilling. People in low-skilled or non-customer-facing positions will need to be taught how to be creative, innovative and entrepreneurial.

The onus will be on organisations to share their knowledge. And the onus will be on us, as individuals, to grab every opportunity we can to learn and develop our skills. Freedom to choose is another trait the machines can’t take from us – and we all need to choose to be proactive, to seek out free online learning, to make ourselves indispensable.

The reality is that automation is going to impact every job in some way. Impact, not replace. That impact will be the ability to do our jobs better and faster, taking away the growing epidemic of ‘busyness’ and giving us more time to be more human. More time to grow and to find that elusive work-life balance.

And if that’s the trade-off, then I’m all for it.

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The future of the book… and of reading

Many fear that the days of the printed book are numbered. In truth, it is not so much the book that is evolving, but the very act of reading, argues ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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Let’s talk about a revolutionary technology. One that has already changed the course of civilisation. It is also a dangerous technology, one that is spreading previously hidden knowledge among people who may misuse and abuse the technology in ways we cannot imagine.

Every one reading this is a link in a chain of this dangerous and subversive technology.

I’m talking, of course, about the printed book.

To understand how the book has changed society, though, we must also understand how the book has changed reading. That, in turn, will help us understand the future of the book.

Because the future of the book is in fact the future of reading.

Let’s go back to a time some may remember as their carefree youth. The year 400. 

(Go back in history with the links below.)

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Wearables enter enterprise

Regardless of whether wearables lack the mobility or security capabilities to fully support the ways in which we now work – organisations remain keen and willing to unlock the potential such devices have, says RONALD RAVEL, Director B2B South Africa, Toshiba South Africa.

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The idea of integrating wearable technology into enterprise IT infrastructure is one which, while being mooted for several years now, has yet to take-off in earnest. The reasons behind previous false dawns vary. However, what is evident is that – regardless of whether wearables to date have lacked the mobility or security capabilities to fully support the ways in which we now work – organisations remain keen and willing to unlock the potential such devices have. According to ABI Research, global wearable device shipments will reach 154 million by 2021 – a significant jump from approximately 34 million in 2016.

This projected increase demonstrates a confidence amongst CIOs which perhaps betrays the lack of success in the market to date, but at the same time reflects a ripening of conditions which could make 2018 the year in which wearables finally take off in the enterprise. A maturing IoT market, advances in the development of Augmented Reality (AR), and the impending arrival of 5G – which is estimated to have a subscription base of half a billion by 2022 – are contributing factors which will drive the capabilities of wearable devices.

Perhaps the most significant catalyst behind wearables is the rise of Edge Computing. As the IoT market continues to thrive, so too must IT managers be able to securely and efficiently address the vast amounts of data generated by it. Edge Computing helps organisations to resolve this challenge, while at the same time enabling new methods of gathering, analysing and redistributing data and derived intelligence. Processing data at the edge reduces strain on the cloud so users can be more selective of the data they send to the network core. Such an approach also makes it easier for cyber-attacks to be identified at an early stage and restricted to a device at the edge. Data can then be scanned and encrypted before it is sent to the core.

As more and more wearable devices and applications are developed with business efficiency and enablement in mind, Edge Computing’s role will become increasingly valuable – helping organisations to achieve $2 trillion in extra benefits over the next five years, according to Equinix and IDC research.

Photo by Kathryn Bacher.

Where will wearables have an impact?

At the same time as these technological developments are aiding the rise of wearables, so too are CIOs across various sectors recognising how they can best use these devices to enhance mobile productivity within their organisation – another factor which is helping to solidify the market. In particular it is industries with a heavy reliance on frontline and field workers – such as logistics, manufacturing, warehousing and healthcare – which are adopting solutions like AR smart glasses. The use case for each is specific to the sector, or even the organisation itself, but this flexibility is often what makes such devices so appealing. While wearables for the more traditional office worker may offer a different but no more efficient way for workers to conduct every day tasks such as checking emails and answering phone calls, for frontline and field workers they are being tailored to meet their unique demands and enhance their ability to perform specific tasks.

Take for example boiler engineers conducting an annual service, who could potentially use AR smart glasses to overlay the schematics of the boiler to enable a hands-free view of service procedures – meaning that when a fault becomes a barrier to repair, the engineer is able to use collaboration software to call for assistance from a remote expert. Elsewhere, in the healthcare sector smart eyewear may support clinicians with hands-free identification of patient records, medical procedures and information on medicines and results.

Such examples demonstrate the immediate and diverse potential of wearables across different verticals. With enterprise IT infrastructure now in the position to embrace such technologies, it is this ability to deliver bespoke functionality to mobile workers which will be the catalyst for continued uptake throughout 2018 and beyond.

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