The fourth industrial revolution is now underway, restructuring and digitally transforming all businesses (or causing the death of those who fail to adapt) and will eventually be removing those clunky legacy IT systems that have plagued industries for decades. By 2021, it will be in full swing. And while that may not seem very far away, by then substantial parts of our working lives will be unrecognisable to us today.
This transformation brings with it both opportunities and challenges. Many jobs will change. Some jobs will become redundant. But so long as leaders are responsible and responsive to the needs of the people who follow them, this doesn’t have to be a harmful transition. In fact, for businesses that are agile enough to adapt to its potential, it will be a hugely empowering shift.
‘New collar jobs’ will rise, new skills will be developed, deeper insights unlocked and increased opportunities made available for the truly talented to reach the top. There will be a lot of re-skilling involved and both corporate and government policy will have to be revised to support life-long learning.
Artificial intelligence will become part of everyday life, augmenting human intelligence and removing us from the drudgery of unfulfilling admin work. We’re already welcoming AI into our homes with Amazon Echo and Google Echo, and by 2021 it will be massively boosting our business productivity and improving end- user experiences.
While AI will create ethical conundrums for business leaders and politicians around governance and accountability, it’s not man vs machine. It will take on the form of 'intelligent assistance' (IA), supporting and enhancing us, not replacing us.
And in the next four years, we’ll have clearer professional guidelines in place, greater confidence and more awareness of any potential risks that may come with this technological change.
Data will also be a core part of this transformation. Business leaders are beginning to recognise that data is the 21st century’s most precious and competitive commodity. But with cyber security becoming an increasing concern, the security of that data is now in focus.
The scramble to implement the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018 will see businesses finally start to take data protection seriously. By 2021, companies who don’t protect customer data will go out of business. It simply won’t be acceptable anymore.
Similarly unacceptable is the gender pay gap, which by 2021 will have barely shrunk (if at all). We’ll need to see more and more leaders taking tangible action to close that; right now it’s slipped to 170 years until we achieve parity, according to the WEF.
On the plus side, we can expect an increase in women studying STEM subjects, particularly in the Far East. Companies like BT and Barclays are already blazing a trail in upskilling teachers and pupils by providing coding training at a young age for boys AND girls – and we’ll see more follow suit to plug their skills gaps, amplify female talent and ultimately improve their bottom line.
Depressingly, the US now stands to be the only remaining advanced economy without statutory paid maternity by 2021. In the UK, more companies will be offering paid paternity leave, flexible working and other policies that promote equality of choice for parents as businesses will have finally woken up to the cost of losing amazing female talent – and more countries will follow where the UK is currently leading.
And one of my biggest hopes for the next four years: that a female CEO’s gender will be unremarkable and not something to be commented upon. Having more women and diverse perspectives in leadership is essential to improve our economic prospects and to equip ourselves for the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Lindsay Pattison is worldwide chief executive at Maxus