The Future of Work and the CIO’s Role

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I recently stumbled across an interesting article. It dealt with a topic that affects us all, one that we perhaps do not take into consideration quite enough during our day-to-day work; namely, the future of work. The contents of this article were, to put it mildly, a little unsettling. Quite some time ago, researchers at the University of Oxford discovered that almost half of all jobs could cease to exist in the years to come. In some sectors, the prospects are bleaker still. For example, these British economists actually predict that 90 percent of jobs in the insurance sector could be in jeopardy.

The reason for this, according to the researchers, ultimately lies in something which has become intertwined with our everyday lives – the digital transformation. Computerization, networking, IoT, and, more recently, artificial intelligence (AI) enable a high level of automatization; this includes tasks which were previously reserved for truly intelligent beings with the power of judgement. We are all well aware of the fact that digitalization is altering numerous work processes, some of which we could not even have conceived of previously. This has not just had an impact on simple tasks, but also complex activities such as those carried out by journalists, lawyers, or doctors. Even though we still have a lot riding on ideas and projects, we have to ask ourselves whether there will be detrimental long-term impacts on working society. Will intelligent machines really replace the workforce in the near future?

Economics would not be described as a science if cases could not be refuted or seen from different perspectives. Accordingly, the aforementioned article refers to researchers from the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW), who came to the conclusion that the degree of automation of activities is nowhere near as high as this; according to their calculations, in all OECD countries, only nine percent of jobs on average are under threat. In Germany, the figure is approximately 12 percent. Indeed, this is significantly lower, but I do not find it particularly reassuring, as we are still talking about the livelihoods of five million people in our country.

Is it inevitable that technological progress will axe jobs? If you think back to the last technical revolution, which many of us even experienced ourselves, the introduction of PCs in the 80s led to extensive computerization and, to some extent, the first stage of digitalization. Ultimately, this resulted in more jobs, not fewer. This was not just because we needed more software developers, system administrators, database experts, and IT consultants; the PC also initiated a whole host of new processes and business models, and whole new sectors emerged, too. The article also includes the following statement: “In 20 years, 80 percent of jobs will have been destroyed”. This originally comes from an edition of the SPIEGEL magazine dated 17 April 1979.

But can we simply apply these past developments to today’s world? Or does digitalization have the power to sweep away everything we have learned? Perhaps the disruption we are seeing means that these kinds of analogies no longer apply, since AI may be redefining everything. That would mean that we have just about reached the point where this is like reading tea leaves; it is futile to speculate about it. As I see it, approaching the future does not mean waiting for what either does or does not happen, but rather taking an active part in shaping it.

Regarding the subject of the workforce, this can only mean improving mobility, diversity, and creativity. We have to help workers to achieve their full potential and, above all, we have to put them in a position where they can comprehensively work with new technologies, from IoT, to cloud computing, to AI. If, for example, 44 percent of workers are of the opinion that their workplaces do not yet provide enough intelligent equipment, this also shows that many of those who are greatly affected by the workforce changes actually think that more technology should be implemented. When it comes to technology, it really depends on how you use it.

In this environment, CIOs face completely new challenges, precisely because the essential leverage during the upcoming changes is to make use of technology. This means that the CIO does not just act as an interface between IT and business. With their high level of technical expertise and social skills, they also are a key component in the relationship between IT and employees. The CIO is the go-to expert on implementing technology in the workplace. Therefore, their competence in this role is crucial for employees’ working potential, both now and in the future.

To learn more about the new job profile of a CIO, how current CIOs can prepare for this role, and which key challenges await them, please refer to our new Connected CIO booklet, which is available for download at https://www.dellemc.com/en-gb/digital-transformation/connected-cio.htm.

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