A key aspect of my role is to work with clients to understand the impact of emerging technologies, to demystify the challenge and to identify ways for them to get the best out of the particular technology. This may involve doing some research, kicking off an ideation challenge (refer to some of the contributions from Simon and Nicholas) or investing in a proof of concept of the technology.

During the year ahead I’ll pick out and explore various emerging technologies that are gaining traction and interest from clients and the community. This won’t just be a playback of the likes Gartner and Forrester, but will be more of considered view from across the wider ecosystem that goes to produce our own emerging technologies watch list. Here I would like to explore some aspects on the whole new world of software robots and process automation. This was 2016’s hottest topic and is forecast to be right up their again this year. It might seem strange to link software robots and automatons to the like of Arsenal and football but I’m looking to consider some of Arsene Wenger’s approach to staying up to date and original when thinking about how to get the best out of this new technology.

Plug and Play Professionals

Late last year I attended the Smart Machines vs. Smart People: the future of business conference put on by the FT. At the event we had a key note from Daniel Susskind, co-author of The Future of the Professions where he explored how much of a threat does advanced robotics pose when replacing employees in white-collar sectors, how could computer power enhance the ability of the white-collar workers to serve their clients, and can innovation in this sector come from a combination of professionals and machines? A great read that will have many thinking about the impact on our roles and how best to work with the technology to get the most out of it.

Life lessons from original thinkers

Those in the know will appreciate my close affinity with Arsenal. In a couple of their games you could say that they’ve played like robots.  Simon Kuper at the FT investigates the fascinating category of original thinkers. This group of people is distinct from “winners” or “leaders”. Some original thinkers end up winning money and prizes, but that’s not what they are after. Rather, their mission is to do ground breaking work.  In his piece he calls out Arsene Wenger, the current and long serving manager of Arsenal Football Club, as meeting the criteria of an original thinkers. According to Kuper, Wenger has structured his career in a strikingly similar ways to others such  Amy Winehouse and Billy Beane, who pioneered the statistical revolution in sport, has remained general manager of the little Oakland A’s baseball club since 1997. Now what has this got to do with Robots and Automation of people’s roles, particularly when one would hope that he is not try to automate his players. For me it is the mind set to explore and try things, to investigate new concepts and potentially to reject the world’s rewards (something “winners” rarely do) in order to protect their work.  This challenge brings me back to the confidence to have a vision to investigate, to learn and to try potentially disruptive things.

Biggest technology disruptor over next few years

Workforce automation and the use of software robotics is forecast to be one of the biggest technology disruptors over the next decade.  According to some recent work from Mckinsey, almost half the activities that an individual is paid to perform can be automated by currently demonstrated technology.

At the last years World Economic Forum, the rise of the machines and fourth industrial revolution were hotly debated. The UBS report presents a very interesting framework to consider the potential impact of the technology.

The road ahead will be bumpy…but automated

The road ahead to run a new virtual workforce is less about automating individual jobs, and more about automating activities and redefining roles and processes.  No doubt managing and leading increasingly automated organisations will becomes a competitive differentiator.

A key takeaway for me was how the various emerging technologies we are dialling down into are becoming more integrated and will enable the smarter organisations to create a multiplier effect for true transformation.  Knitting technologies such as Blockchain 2.0 (more on this in coming pieces and research) and software robotics together won’t be easy but the size of the prize is significant.

More and more I’m seeing people explore new technology as pilots but the real value will come in the multiplier effect when we begin to think in combinations and integrated moves.   So maybe not that far away from Arsene and his thinking after all.