For chief digital officers and technology decision-makers, it’s more than curiosity that makes us wonder what the future holds. It’s our job to look for patterns and trends. We want to be certain that we’re making sound investments and applying digital technologies in the right way, helping our businesses stay intelligent, agile and competitive.
I see five distinct trends that will shape digital transformation in 2020 and beyond.
1. Digital will enhance the human condition, but governance is key
There will be tremendous opportunities for digital to transform society in big, positive ways. Today, the internet of things (IoT) is empowering smart cities with data to improve resident safety, traffic congestion and green initiatives. Similarly, IoT data combined with predictive analytics can help doctors better monitor patients and deliver proactive treatment.
We will see more of data, artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies converging to enhance the human condition. But as digital plays a larger role in people’s lives, ethical governance will be key.
Businesses leveraging these tools will also need to ensure that use cases are secure, free of bias and ethically sound. For instance, organizations will need security measures to prevent data corruption. They will have to curb unconscious biases using comprehensive datasets and diverse teams. And while digital tools can be designed for positive outcomes, organizations should also look out for negative deviations.
In 2020 and beyond, companies will need governance capabilities and preventative measures to make sure digital technologies continue to be used for good. As such, we will see many organizations bring on digital ethics officers to implement ethical governance frameworks.
2. AI adoption will be a matter of survival for enterprises
Based on our company’s extensive research, we predict that, by 2025, AI-driven enterprises will be up to 10 times more efficient and hold twice the market share of those that don’t adopt the technology. Therefore, accelerating AI adoption in the next five years will be a matter of not only innovation, but survival.
To ease the path to adoption, modularity will be essential. This will be offered through pretrained AI accelerators that serve as building blocks for transforming processes. These microservices enable organizations to separately automate and optimize key tasks within an end-to-end process. It’s then possible to avoid time-consuming development and rapidly build applications. These accelerators will present many with their first steps toward AI adoption.
3. Keeping the human in the loop will be critical
Digital will have an augmentation rather than replacement effect. The truth is, today’s enterprise applications can comfortably deliver about 80% accuracy. We as humans need to take care of the remaining 20% and cover “the last mile” — the actual decision. Therefore, humans will need to work alongside machines, adding empathy, creative problem-solving and judgment to AI’s outputs. In this brave new world, AI will mean augmented intelligence rather than artificial intelligence.
Business leaders need to start evolving job functions and reskilling employees to prepare. While some have made headway, our research shows there is still considerable work to be done. Namely, from the study, 53% of senior executives say that their companies offer reskilling programs for workers. However, only 35% of employees report such options are available within their organizations.
One proven method to address the discrepancy and cultivate better reskilling programs has been inspired by the work of MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI). This involves identifying internal experts who have the knowledge others may need and offering ways to share their expertise to harness the organization’s collective intelligence. The result is more collaborative, successful reskilling. After all, people often learn better from peers who can contextualize learning to their daily work.
4. Experience becomes the true north for transformation
Moving forward, digital transformation will be less about traditional benefits like cutting costs and more about reimagining experiences for customers, employees and partners. Think of Amazon, which has made a seismic impact on multiple industries by transforming consumer expectations with one-click ordering, same-day delivery and personalized shopping recommendations.
More organizations will realize the importance of human-centric design, leading transformation initiatives with experience as the true North Star. This requires mapping out processes, thinking about how the experience could be better for the end user and determining how digital can help in achieving the ideal future state.
The goal is to have less friction and add new value for people both working for and interacting with an organization. Employee and customer satisfaction and retention then go up, and experience becomes a differentiating value proposition and driver of top-line growth. Benefits like reduced costs are still there, but they become inherent in the overall transformation.
5. The evolution of transformation as a service
While many large corporations realize the need to transform their processes and experiences, the challenge is how to do so at scale and speed. They want to apply AI and machine learning to analyze data and start generating useful insights. But algorithms often need time to learn from data, which means it takes longer to see real results.
Transformation as a service will provide the solution. Pretrained AI accelerators will allow for much faster adoption of AI, as they have relevant data and domain expertise baked in. Through a modular design, AI accelerators can streamline development and scale solutions so that enterprises and customers alike can reap the benefits of transformation sooner.
The common thread among all these trends is the human element. Whereas digital transformation over the past 10 years has focused on the promise of technology driving productivity, I believe that the future will center around humans. It will be about how we use technology to transform our jobs, lives, experiences and surroundings. The future will be radically digital, but it will also be radically human.