Technology is both shrinking and scaling our world. Digital technology is now ubiquitous, disrupting business models and radically changing the way organisations hire and manage people. But businesses have a responsibility to ensure they are inclusive in their approach, according to Business in the Community (BITC).
Working with Accenture, BITC launched a report entitled A Brave New World? Why businesses must ensure an inclusive digital revolution to help companies consider what an inclusive digital revolution will mean for them.
“The digital revolution will change the way businesses run, the way they employ people, and how they offer goods and services to their customers,” says Paul Buchanan, executive director at BITC. “Technology has huge potential to empower all these groups, but as society rapidly changes, this comes with challenges.”
BITC is calling on business leaders to ensure an inclusive digital revolution; one where organisations are enhanced by technology but also consider the impact rapid change is having on people from all walks of life, as well as the planet, and take steps to mitigate risks. It is forecast that, in 2020, 6.2 million people in the UK will not have the basic skills required to use the internet regularly for themselves.
“Technology is very quickly disrupting the way business operates, but it is vital that business leaders continue to behave responsibly to their workforce and the communities in which they operate so people are not left behind,” adds Buchanan.
As well as ensuring your current employees are able to participate in the changing workplace being driven by the digital economy, BITC is calling on organisations to work with the education system to embed the right mix of digital skills for the workforce of the future.
Call for collaboration
Creating an inclusive digital revolution requires business to work in collaboration, alongside non-governmental organisations and policymakers, to ensure that business transformation generates social and environmental benefits, explains Buchanan. “Businesses that may otherwise be competitors must work together, and across sectors, to develop solutions,” he says. “Technology could reduce food waste by 20% by 2030, water waste by 12% and create societal benefits worth £222bn by 2025, but that will only happen if manufacturers across a range of sectors collaborate and act responsibly.”
Since the launch of the report in November, BITC has embarked on a year-long programme of roundtables and events with business to help leaders understand what they should consider as their business models transform. BITC plans to work with Accenture to launch a second report in April 2017 as part of Responsible Business Week (24-28 April 2017), offering practical ways to make the digital revolution inclusive.
Keeping pace with transformation
For Emma McGuigan, senior managing director at Accenture, it’s the responsibility of all business leaders to take action to ensure their workforce keeps pace.
“From top to bottom, we want to encourage productivity and enablement through technology,” she says. “Automation has already enabled Accenture professionals to focus on more strategic, higher-value work over repetitive, mundane tasks. It’s allowing us to use our exceptional talent to its potential.” She adds that automation is not about replacing talent with robots, but amplifying the unique skills humans offer with the accuracy and precision intelligent technology can bring to complex tasks.
Accenture took 23,000 manual roles in its processing operations function and replaced them with robots, explains McGuigan. “They’re programmed to run those processes and are continuously learning how to do them better. The people who were in those roles didn’t disappear, they were reskilled and have new roles in the business where they can engage in more advanced, creative work.
“If anything, intelligent automation has created opportunities and will continue to do so as we gain a deeper understanding of natural language processing.”
McGuigan acknowledges that the concept of job roles is being redefined as different generations enter and exit the workforce. However, she views it as critical to ensure that every staff member has the skills to adapt and embrace technology. “It’s about human empowerment,” she says.
Accenture is investing in internal platforms and tools to enable people to develop digital capabilities and agile methods in areas of interest. Programmes are built around internal collaboration, cyber security and online identity.
“Our informal initiatives, such as evening coding sessions, hackathons and workshops with external speakers, play a key role in developing the mindsets to use technology in problem solving,” McGuigan says. “It’s about exposure to different people and ways of thinking.”
Digital transformation is happening now so, for Buchanan businesses must take practical steps to enable the transition from traditional jobs to the high-quality roles of the future, upskilling their workforce and considering the potential impact of automation.
He also makes the case for using digital technology ethically, to enhance transparency of business practices and build trust with consumers, and the need to use digital technology to create radically different business models that tackle societal and environmental issues, as well as ones that create greater financial value.
McGuigan highlights the responsibility businesses have to support the next generation of tech talent. She believes that the limited uptake of STEM subjects, among girls in particular, and a lack of understanding of digital technologies – at entry level and senior positions – are contributing to the tech talent shortage today. “If we ignite girls’ interest in technology from an early age, we can help to address this challenge,” she argues.
Accenture works with not-for-profit organisation the Stemettes; for three years running, they have brought together thousands of girls across the UK aged 11-13 to try coding, attend workshops and hear from inspirational speakers in the STEM sector. McGuigan hopes events like these will open participants’ eyes to the opportunities available to them.
“We need to make a national effort to collaborate with the education sector to engage young people’s interest in a career in tech, ensuring they understand the application of these skills to every sector and the potential for an exciting and rewarding career path,” she concludes.