This article originally appeared in CIO magazine.
Making predictions about something as fast-changing as technology and data can be a challenge. But it’s that time of year when pundits put their reputations on the line and so, in time-honoured tradition, here are my key predictions for what will matter to CIOs and IT departments over the next 12 months:
All together now
It’s the same old song, sung with more urgency thanks to upcoming GDPR legislation. How to unify and manage data to meet customer and legal demands as well as to drive the business forward will be a major concern this year.
Around this time last year, Deloitte talked about ‘kinetic’ enterprise – the need for businesses to be continually moving and adapting to changes in their data management requirements. This depends on building more fluid and collaborative relationships and educating executives and staff to ensure they understand both existing and evolving technologies. And that means root-and-branch changes to organisational models, IT systems and supporting functions. All very sensible and positive – but almost a year on, many businesses have resisted because it’s hard to dismantle what you’ve built over years, even if you will ultimately replace it with something better.
However, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel – Forrester’s Predictions 2018 report suggests that 56% of enterprises are creating customer insight centres of excellence operating across business disciplines to unify customer data and ensure it is central to every business decision.
Prediction: On the positive side, by Q2 2018 when GDPR regulation comes into force, most businesses will have started to make data unification a reality. On the negative side, for many it will be piecemeal – a series of patches to make it look like data is being managed efficiently. Those who have chosen not to make the necessary fundamental changes to their data management infrastructure will literally pay the price when their over-stretched systems collapse under the weight of business, customer and regulatory demand.
Welcome to the machine
AI and machine learning captured everyone’s imagination last year, from those who welcome it as a force for good to those who see it as nothing less than a threat to humanity. As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle – yes, AI will herald the end of more mundane tasks, particularly in retail as self-scan and other functions such as picking and packing become less dependent on human input. No, it won’t signal a rise of the robots – though it will need more resources dedicated to monitoring impact and analysing how the way we work will change.
Prediction: Around 6 million retail jobs could be lost to automation by 2027, according to a study by Cornerstone Capital Group. Some of those jobs will disappear in 2018 – Forrester’s report suggests that 70% of enterprises expect to implement AI over the next 12 months and 20% will deploy AI to make decisions and provide real-time instructions. If it’s easy and cost-effective to train a cognitive machine to carry out simple, repetitive tasks, it makes sense to at least start the ball rolling on AI projects, and there will undoubtedly be a shift in the balance of human to computer in these areas.
People get ready
The upside of automation is that it raises the bar for services requiring a human touch - our interactions, both physical and online, will continue to evolve into something more in tune with our needs. We’re already accustomed to self-serve, self-scan and chatting to bots, and our encounters with ‘robots’, whether we’re aware of them or not, are going to become part of the fabric of our lives. The service industry will have to prepare for a two-tier system – AI for hygiene-level repetitive services, teamed with higher-paid, better educated human specialists to provide advice and support for customers with more complex needs. This should result in new opportunities for often undervalued and overlooked areas of employment – once they are free from the burden of their more monotonous tasks, people working in sales and services will be able to elevate their roles and skill up to provide something that transcends the transactional.
Prediction: 2018 will see the start of a subtle restructuring of the way Human Resources works, with IT becoming heavily involved due to the necessary adoption of AI elements to achieve routine tasks. CIOs will start reassessing how their responsibilities will fundamentally affect every part of the organisation, from data management to people management – sales and service colleagues will become part of the innovation engine, rather than simply units for processing business. However, they will need to be prepared, at least initially, to tackle a skills shortage in data science, automation management and head office personnel skilled in implementing and training AI systems.
Only time will tell how accurate these predictions are, but one certainty is that change is inevitable, and CIOs with vision will be running towards that change and the benefits it can bring.