By David Patek - founder and CEO of Neeco Global ICT Services.
Knowledge is power, so the saying goes, and we are living in an age where knowledge has never been more democratic or accessible. Technology has opened up international markets bringing indiscriminate opportunity to businesses, whether small or large.
Companies today have access to data that provides far greater insight into consumer behaviours and market needs than ever before providing them with extensive possibilities. But the results generated in the quest for data can be overwhelming, especially as one dives deeper into the never-ending rabbit-hole.
This overload of information, and the related explosion of data it results in, is just one of a number of challenges being faced by global and national businesses as they seek to navigate their way across the rapidly changing landscape of business and technology.
They are doing so against an instable geopolitical backdrop that can call their very existence into question. The continuing saga of Brexit; trade tensions between the U.S. and China; tensions in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and the troubles in South Africa are all just some examples.
Other factors such as climate change and viruses are becoming important and disruptive elements, with natural disasters and the threat of world endemic diseases impacting on logistics and accessibility.
Many companies also face regulatory uncertainty as factors such as changing tariffs, data privacy legislation, and changing regulation around international investment and technology transfers.
Consumer needs and behaviours are changing in response to the rise of new technologies, requiring tailored solutions in rapid time frames. The recent changes in prescription medicine and its production provide a clear example of this in action.
In this age of acute disruption, companies need to emulate this agility and rise to meet their challenges if they are to survive.
In order to do so they need to be aware not only of the context within which they sit but of the day to day challenges that they face and make these their priorities. So, beyond the danger of information overload, what are the challenges that companies are facing today?
Within the ongoing onslaught of digitalisation, in a world where cyberattacks are becoming a daily occurrence and legislation tightens its grip, companies need to be actively aware of the importance of data protection. Cybersecurity is itself becoming a real challenge to meet head on if businesses want to keep operating safely and securely.
In the political sphere, Cybersecurity matters are just as sensitive. In 2019, the US government imposed a ban between US tech partnerships and Huawei with concerns against the latter’s link with the Chinese government. More recently, the alleged phone-hacking of Jeff Bezos - the founder of Amazon - by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia highlights how Cybersecurity remains a hot topic for everyone.
Data-hacking techniques are become more hi-tech and elusive. But there is a shortage of skilled Cybersecurity experts against an ever-increasing demand. Against the evolution of highly innovative AI technology, companies are faced with the challenge of safeguarding the privacy of global consumer data against the threat of sophisticated cyberattacks.
Every day something new is written about the rise of Artificial Intelligence and the automation of jobs, both of which have an impact on the global workforce. Automated workplaces currently impact about 3% of jobs globally and from this figure it is clear that automation as such won’t have an immediate and widespread impact in the workforce.
However, companies will continue to see the rise of automation in the workplace in 2020 - specifically in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) which is a highly innovative process automation solution for companies, applying unique business logic inputs to previously mundane ways of working. When addressing AI, companies face the challenge of keeping their existing workforce motivated and engaged.
Companies transforming in line with the digital age are facing the issue of being locked into an aging sales force that no longer have the right skill sets or recruiting in a market that has a scarcity of skilled workers.
Moreover, the fundamental question then arises as to whether or not companies are effectively preparing for the displacement of workers. And given the growing data illiteracy gap, will companies have the best know-how on which areas to successfully automate before letting their employees go?
Whilst technology has been the root cause behind many of the above challenges, ironically it is often technology to whom companies should turn for solutions to their problems.
Even if companies are not ready to undertake a full digital transformation, it is critical that they should prioritise the development of a central, company wide data management strategy. This will enable them to become a data centric organisation giving them access to high quality data that will increase productivity and enable critical business decisions to be taken in real time.
If they are to continue growing there will be times when companies need to address their knowledge gaps, especially in complex projects of an international nature across areas of the business involving changing technology such as IT, networks and communications. They need to be willing to open their doors to external experts that can smooth their journey and help them meet their challenges.
When it comes to cybersecurity, it is all about getting ahead. It is generally understood that the four guiding principles are to govern, protect, detect and respond. The UK Government puts it very succinctly by recommending that companies assess the risks to their organisation’s information and systems with the same vigour that they would for legal, regulatory, financial or operations risks. They suggest that a Risk Management Regime should be implemented across an organisation with Board and senior management buy-in.
Previously we looked at the challenges being created by automation, but automation remains one of the biggest opportunities available to business today. The advantages of automating routine areas of work include freeing up more time, energy and labour to enable more important areas of work to be prioritised.
We also saw how the rise of automation can induce uncertainty in the workforce at large, who naturally fear losing jobs to machines. Companies can address these issues by engaging in meaningful dialogue with their staff. By communicating openly and continuously, explaining the changes taking place, and why the transformation is essential for the company as a whole, businesses can engage their workers and make them a part of journey in a positive and transformative manner. Companies can also embrace the opportunities automation offers them when looking to invest in the upskilling of staff.
Market disruption is nothing new, what is new is the speed at which it is taking place. This in turn affects the way that companies need to prepare and manage it. There is no one single approach to doing so but by embracing the very technologies that create their challenges companies can find the solutions that enable them to remain responsive, agile and competitive.