Businesses risk missing major growth opportunities unless CEOs take immediate steps to pivot their workforces and equip their people to work with intelligent technologies, according to new research by Accenture.
The Accenture Strategy report, Reworking the Revolution: Are you ready to compete as intelligent technology meets human ingenuity to create the future workforce?, estimates that if businesses invest in AI and human-machine collaboration at the same rate as top performing companies, they could boost revenues by 38 per cent by 2022 and raise employment levels by 10 per cent.
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Collectively, this would lift profits by US$4.8 trillion globally over the same period. For the average S&P500 company, this equates to US$7.5 billion of revenues and a US$880 million lift to profitability.
Both leaders and workers are optimistic about the potential of AI on business results and on work experiences, according to the study. Seventy-two per cent of the 1,200 senior executives surveyed said that intelligent technology will be critical to their organisation’s market differentiation and 61 per cent think the share of roles requiring collaboration with AI will rise in the next three years.
More than two thirds (69 per cent) of the 14,000 workers surveyed said that it is important to develop skills to work with intelligent machines.
Yet, a disconnect between workers’ embrace of AI and their employers’ efforts to prepare workers puts potential growth at risk. While a majority (54 per cent) of business leaders say that human-machine collaboration is important to their strategic priorities, only three per cent say their organisation plans to significantly increase its investment in reskilling their workers in the next three years.
“To achieve higher rates of growth in the age of AI, companies need to invest more in equipping their people to work with machines in new ways,” said Mark Knickrehm, group chief executive, Accenture Strategy.
“Increasingly, businesses will be judged on their commitment to what we call Applied Intelligence – the ability to rapidly implement intelligent technology and human ingenuity across all parts of their core business to secure this growth.”
The research suggests that there is a strong foundation on which to boost AI skills investment. Sixty-three per cent of senior executives think that their company will create net job gains in the next three years through AI. Meanwhile, the majority of workers (62 per cent) believe AI will have a positive impact on their work.
The report shows how pioneers are using human-machine collaboration not just to improve efficiencies, but to drive growth through new customer experiences. An online clothing retailer’s AI helps its stylists learn more about customers’ preferences so that they can offer a unique and highly personalized service. And a sports shoe brand set a new bar in customisation and speed-to-market by aligning highly skilled tailors and process engineers with intelligent robots to design and manufacture in local markets.
“Business leaders must take immediate steps to pivot their workforce to enter an entirely new world where human ingenuity meets intelligent technology to unlock new forms of growth,” said Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer, Accenture.
“Workers are impatient to collaborate with AI, giving leaders the opportunity to demonstrate true Applied Intelligence within their organization.”
To help leaders shape the future workforce in the age of AI, Accenture makes the following recommendations:
- Reimagine Work by reconfiguring work from the bottom up. Assess tasks, not jobs; then allocate tasks to machines and people, balancing the need to automate work and to elevate people’s capabilities. Nearly half (46 per cent) of business leaders agree that job descriptions are already obsolete; 29 per cent say they have redesigned jobs extensively.
- Pivot the Workforce to areas that unlock new forms of value. Go beyond process efficiencies and prepare the workforce to create new customer experiences. Fuel new growth models by reinvesting the savings derived from automation into the future workforce. Foster a new leadership DNA that underpins the mindset, acumen and agility required to seize longer-term, transformational opportunities.
- Scale up ‘New Skilling.’ Measure the workforce’s level of skills and willingness to learn to work with AI. Using digital platforms, target programs at these different segments of the workforce and personalize them to improve new skills adoption. Accenture has developed a ‘new skilling’ framework based on a progression of skill level and using a suite of innovative digital learning methods that maximizes training investment at speed and scale.