As we move into the New Year, predicting what the tech world will look like in 2022 is a dicey prospect. Everything from artificial intelligence to blockchain technology to automated delivery is going through a period of aggressive innovation and experimentation, and this means several sectors of the industry are focused on developing tools to support widespread remote work, employee training, and customer education technology.
In response to an overall shortage of people with tech skills, companies are increasingly turning to automation as a solution. Now, I’m not talking about robots taking over and wiping out the human race — we aren’t there quite yet. But automation is happening on a large-scale, which means companies are embracing technologies that can help them fill gaps created by the labor shortage while optimizing staff. In retail and hospitality, this will take the form of self-serve kiosks, autonomous order fulfillment and AI-enabled drive-thrus, all freeing people up for higher-skilled roles. Adoption will continue to accelerate as the positive business impact of improved efficiency and staff morale is recognized.
Where specialized skills are required, professional outsourcing and third-party staffing companies are stepping in to fill the gaps, while large employers are increasingly adopting contingent labor and automation solutions.
Not long ago, contingent work — jobs that don’t necessarily require a formal degree — were viewed as inferior to “blue-collar” jobs, and its attractiveness was a secondary consideration in the job-selection process. This has changed dramatically, with companies finding that the time and costs saved by contracting out professional services outweighs the risks involved with contingent work. This is especially true for smaller companies, who don’t want to be saddled with expensive development or IT staff. Indeed, the myth of the unskilled worker has been shattered by the on-demand economy. In some cases, a contingent worker might have as much or more technical knowledge as someone with a full-time staff role.
Another issue is that companies looking to reduce their cost base are moving away from traditional wage agreements and looking at independent workers as a cost-efficient alternative to the conventional job. In line with this, the use of independent contractors is also increasing, although experts believe this is just the beginning — as automation increases, demand for IT skills will only increase.
AI’s Increasing Role in Tech
AI is undoubtedly having an impact on the tech landscape. While it may seem as though it is in the future, there’s no doubt that it’s here and will continue to play a large role in shaping the industry’s future direction. When AI and other advanced technologies like machine learning gain mainstream traction, many jobs that require traditional programming skills will be automated. AI-enabled cognitive tools and algorithms can now do the work of creating complex AI systems, and developers can now package their software for delivery over the cloud. Although AI and robotic automation won’t replace workers at a large scale, they will help make their jobs easier. This will ultimately help companies to leverage their human resources, free up their workforces for higher-value tasks and open up new roles.
For example, today, online retailers use AI-enabled predictive analytics to enhance customer experiences. Product recommendations, recommendations for items to add to a basket, suggestions for products to buy based on demographics, etc., all provide a clear value add, helping to increase sales and improve customer satisfaction. As more retailers make use of AI-enabled tools, the ability to deliver a more consistent, personalized experience to their customers will become an ever-more valuable business tool.
But all this isn’t to say that we can just sit back and leave the robots to do all the hard work. In fact, it’s the AI developers that will be the real winners, benefiting from the continued migration of valuable computing tasks away from the current pool of workforce. Companies that automate basic tasks will be rewarded with reduced overhead, while those that find that machine learning can do more will face additional demands from their customers. It will be those companies that are willing to adapt and embrace the automation wave that will be the first to reap the rewards.
Platforms like Uber, Airbnb and Taskrabbit demonstrate that Uber-like ride-sharing services aren’t a flash in the pan and that businesses can no longer ignore the platform economy. While the ride-sharing industry is highly-regulated, online-to-offline sharing economy services like Airbnb and Taskrabbit allow consumers and clients to interact directly. The tendency to run on AI-powered cloud platforms has meant that many of the platform companies are employing AI development teams to improve their product offerings.
Other industries, like retail and hospitality, are developing and using AI-based platforms to streamline operations. These companies are using AI to improve supply-chain management, product packaging, customer service, inventory management, and staff scheduling. This trend will only increase as the platforms continue to develop and attract more business.
As AI and other advanced technologies continue to gain traction, the need to transform and update your technology strategy will grow. Traditional skills that used to be taught in classrooms are no longer enough to thrive in the workplace. To remain relevant in the new digital landscape, businesses will need to embrace innovative platforms and technologies in order to develop, support and sell their products and services.
As an entrepreneur and business leader, you need to equip yourself with the ability to adapt and evolve. The traditional hard skills, like programming and database management, will become more important as the market demands greater levels of innovation and agility. However, these skills will continue to be the least-cited in the technology industry.
As the digital age progresses, demand for technical skills will continue to grow, and organizations will need to compensate for the decreasing availability of human capital. To succeed in this environment, business leaders will need to keep up with evolving technologies and hone skills in new areas, such as data science, machine learning, customer experience and other emerging areas. By building these skills, you’ll be prepared for the future.