More than 26 million Americans filed for unemployment in the past 4 weeks due to COVID-19. Digitalization and automation are filling some gaps, but when the dust settles, will digital agents and robots have replaced those jobs for good? Was COVID-19 the wake-up call for the world to go digital?
The World Economic Forum predicted by 2025 humans will make up only 48 percent of the workforce, with digital workers accounting for 52 percent. McKinsey has sketched the progression of various companies along a digital Darwinism curve, rating them from being an experimentalist, fast-follower to a leader. In addition to those predictions, Innosight predicts 50 percent of current S&P 500 companies to fall off the list by 2027.
Are we prepared for this sea change?
It may turn out that this transformation is key to reestablishing our economic markets and societal networks as we emerge from the current crisis. Per BCG, application of AI will be immensely valuable in helping companies adapt to new trends accelerated by COVID-19. In this crisis and its aftermath, winning companies will reinvent themselves by putting software, data and AI at the core of their organizations.
A worldwide crisis calls for radical measures
The enterprise world needs radical change to get out of this downward slide towards depression. Things aren’t getting back to “normal.” We have to learn to live and thrive in the “new normal” of constant change, volatility and uncertainty.
This slow crawl towards maximum digitization is not acceptable. Rapid full digitalization won’t only safeguard us all from the vulnerabilities this crisis has exposed, it also means the U.S. will remain the superpower leader on Earth. COVID-19 has shown that if we don’t move at maximum responsible speeds, our tomorrows will be worse than our yesterdays.
Key drivers to reinvent the digital economy
- Customer service
Enterprises discovered they can’t sustain good customer service with seasonal variances in load. Demand for customer service has spikes, and humans servicing calls can have troughs. Good sustainable Net Promoter Scores require elastic scaling of servicing agents in proportion to load. When one of the largest air carriers in Europe was recently reporting 7 hours 22 minutes of hold time per call, they realized that the current model falters when consumers need you most.
With the current crunch, enterprises have shown they need to shave 25-40 percent or more off delivery cost or face an existential crisis. Recessionary pressures cause organizations to be more prudent with their cost productivity. We must widen margins through high degrees of automation and digitization. Every enterprise must have at least a three-month cushion of operating costs for the next pandemic.
- A human-centric digital journey is upon the workforce
Enterprise must transform into a human-powered AI company, a set of principles outlined by BCG. For too long, humans have formed the front line of customer care defense, utilizing technologies in the backend. This will undergo a polar shift. The enterprise world is waking up to becoming digital-first, backed by humans as a point of escalation. Elevating humans to higher-value tasks benefits organizations — and any individual’s career progression and work satisfaction. According to Business 20, digital education must include teaching the necessary skill base to work and interact with emerging digital technologies.
- Remote ways of working
Flexible working arrangements and on-demand labor models associated within the gig economy will become more common. From enterprise to small startups, all businesses must encourage adoption of flexible work arrangements. Most countries have had to explore quickly, and implement immediately, alternative working arrangements to counter potential health impacts and aid containing the pandemic. This emphasizes the vital role that technology plays in crisis response and continuity of economic activity. We’re now utilizing technologies such as Zoom, DocuSign and others to provide much needed flexibility. We must immediately provide additional technological infrastructure, including digital public services and entertainment services.
- A more entropic world
Disruptions through pandemics, climate change and terrorist activities are becoming a fact of life. Companies that find formulas to sustain good customer care during such downturns will be the ones commanding customer loyalty. Algorithmic economies demand digital solutions for consistency in customer care.
- Data is paramount in curbing the humanitarian impact of COVID-19
Data and AI are becoming core to public policy. Most prevailing and effective decisions in business today are data-based rather than politically driven. AI is bridging a gap to bring insights to public policy that is challenging governments and health organizations.
We need this data to inform our every decision concerning COVID-19. Gut feel and hunches have no place in the modern world of endless data streams and AI. If millions of pieces of data show you the truth, you must listen, no matter how much you dislike the facts.
- Reinvented business models with AI at their core
This is one of the main principles emphasized by a BCG executive paper. While battling these unfortunate circumstances, companies should take transformative action by putting AI at the heart of business and operating models.
Organizations are embedding AI-based intelligence into their solutions for better products. A large healthcare technology provider is planning to administer managed care utilizing a COVID-19 physician’s assistant powered by IPsoft's Amelia. We are seeing AI fully embedded into diagnostic tools such as CT scans, X-rays, etc, and AI can help radiologists more rapidly and accurately differentiate between COVID-19 infections and other infections. AI must be the core of the entire pharmaceutical industry. AI significantly improves R&D within the pharmaceutical industry by shortening elongated trial-and-error phases of vaccine and treatment development.
As the “new normal” emerges, what we learn now, and how we act on it, will allow us to better deal with the next pandemic — and any other simmering disruptive global events.
It has always taken seismic events for such a societal shift to occur. It’s as if the manual world went to sleep four weeks ago, and a new digital world will awaken weeks from now, with citizens everywhere wondering how we ever managed without a digital-first approach in the first place.
Mark Minevich is president of Going Global Ventures. He is a global digital cognitive strategist and artificial intelligence expert and venture capitalist. He serves as a senior fellow of U.S. Council on Competitiveness, digital fellow to CEO of IPsoft and was appointed as member of the B20 digital economy taskforce in the G20 Presidency. Follow him on Twitter @MMinevich.
Chetan Dube has served as CEO and president of IPsoft, a developer of AI systems for business, since its inception in 1998. Prior to IPsoft, he served as an Assistant Professor at New York University, where his research was focused on deterministic finite-state computing engines.