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Firm warning: embrace technology or fail

Companies who fail to adopt emerging technologies such as AI and blockchain will fall behind, say experts

“Companies who focus on developing and adopting a digital transformation strategy, will be well-placed to grow and remain relevant in the digital age.” Photograph: iStock

“Companies who focus on developing and adopting a digital transformation strategy, will be well-placed to grow and remain relevant in the digital age.” Photograph: iStock

 

Emerging technologies like AI, blockchain, AR and VR might sound like a whole new language, but their adoption will be critical if Irish businesses are to remain competitive and leverage the growth in new sector opportunities as traditional sectors like agriculture decline. When it comes to digital transformation, any company paralysed by inertia in this space will be penalised as those who embrace the new prospects on offer reap the rewards.

Mark Jordan is chief technologist at Skillnet Ireland, the national agency responsible for the promotion of workforce learning in Ireland. He says that, through the agency’s close industry relationships, they know companies in Ireland are starting to prioritise digital transformation initiatives and have a desire to embrace the technological breakthroughs to optimise their business processes.

“Companies who focus on developing and adopting a digital transformation strategy will be well-placed to grow and remain relevant in the digital age,” he says.”

The rise in adoption of technologies such as AI, machine learning, blockchain and advanced cybersecurity is already starting to have an impact, adds Jordan.

“It is fascinating how the rise of AI and machine learning is already starting to shape the future of roles in the financial services and technology sectors, thereby allowing employees to focus on more high-value activities – and bringing them closer to their customers.”

Indeed, organisations who are ahead of the game when it comes to integrating these new technologies will attract and retain the best talent, says Jordan.

“Employee expectations are no longer just focused on compensation. Companies who invest in technology, have a culture to embrace innovation, provide upskilling development programmes to enable internal mobility, and are clear on the direction of their digital transformation strategy will be more successful in attracting and retaining the highest level of talent.”

Undertaking this type of transformation involves a real willingness to evaluate and challenge IT usage and infrastructure, operating processes, organisational activity, talent and core competences, he adds. In response to demand in this area, Skillnet Ireland has developed masters programmes in AI, blockchain, machine learning, and internet of things.

These skills will be invaluable in the new workplace reality. Chief technology officer at Workhuman Jonathan Hyland is effusive when he speaks about the urgency of adopting new technologies for Irish businesses.

“Ireland has become a really vibrant hub for innovation over the past number of years, where we have essentially become the Silicon Valley of Europe, the de-facto destination for tech companies. There has been a real focus on R&D as part of that, and the adoption of new technologies by companies is key to driving that demand for innovation,” he says.

Workhuman, which offers a social recognition and performance management platform to customers in more than 160 countries, constantly strives to pioneer new technology to help its customers, adds Hyland.

“The new and emerging technology spaces such as AI, AR, VR, and blockchain are undoubtedly going to feed into everything we do in the future, from how we engage with customers to how our job functions are performed,” he says. “At the heart of it is the willingness of Irish companies to invest, coupled with the highly talented tech workforce we have here.”

Fail to keep pace

He is adamant that organisations who fail to keep pace will fall behind. “The companies that recognise the opportunity and embrace the changes and use the differentiation or efficiency that it provides will prosper while those that are late to the party and don’t get on board with the new technologies will ultimately stagnate.”

How the changes are assimilated within any organisation is key; Hyland is keen to impress that the new digital landscape will not see entire workforces replaced by robots.

“Some jobs will be replaced entirely, while other new job areas that haven’t even been dreamt of by now will be created by these changes,” he says.

Jordan agrees. “At Skillnet Ireland, we believe that we will see a future of business being transformed with smart humans utilising smarter machines – this will be a symbiotic relationship rather than the more common narrative of machines taking over jobs.”

Tom Connor, innovation project manager at law firm Matheson, explains that what’s happening now in terms of digital transformation is typically viewed as the fourth industrial revolution.

Matheson is focusing on what they call “constructive disruption”, he explains.

“There is the perception in the marketplace that these technologies, automation technologies and AI are coming to replace workers’ jobs but what we mean by constructive disruption is how we can utilise and harness these technologies to create new opportunities for our employees.”

For a law firm like Matheson, these emerging technologies present opportunities that didn’t necessarily exist before.

“Cloud-based and AI technologies open up whole new sectors of the digital economy to law firms we typically wouldn’t have gone near before. We are now able to deliver client-facing digital solutions, which is something we physically couldn’t have able to do before,” he explains.

Connor believes Irish firms are on the ball when it comes to the adoption of new technologies.

“The Irish business landscape is quite respective of emerging technologies and introducing them. We are certainly on par with any of the cities in Europe when it comes to this.”

All agree that how companies manage the cultural impact of these changes and the impact on their people will be key to their ultimate success.

“It’s fair to say there can be resistance to new technologies but the first part and probably the most important part of the digital transformation journey which many professional services firms are on is to actually change the culture before you introduce these new technologies and that’s really around what we call designing a digital culture,” says Connor.

“One of the most important things we focus on here is that it is not just about the technology alone. There are big prizes on offer for those who get their strategy right when it comes to this but in order to do that you must combine people, process, and technology.”

Jordan concurs. “This can be a profound cultural shift, but if embraced correctly, will deliver the efficiencies, agility and performance improvements which can drive the success of their commercial future.”

“Even in those companies that are embracing these technologies wholeheartedly and pushing the sectors forward, they know that ultimately it’s about how they treat the humans in their organisations as they roll out these capabilities – that will be how they will succeed,” adds Hyland.

“The more included and connected their workplace cultures are the more successful these transitions will be.”