Dell Technologies and the IFTF Forecast the Future of Work

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  July 19, 2017

Predicting the future is easy enough. In fact, survey business and investing bestsellers and you’ll find dozens of books and authors who claim to have an inside track on what’s up ahead. Sadly, despite their sometimes impressive sales numbers, most of those trendy tomes deliver far more dross than gold, and many are also guilty of memorably howling errors.

However, these high-profile failures tend to detract from the future-focused work of more diligent researchers. That’s problematic on its face but is potentially destructive in swiftly changing industries, including IT. As a result, businesses that might profit from guidance can end up looking for it in the wrong places or pursuing costly initiatives that turn out to be costly mistakes.

Consider, for example, the remarkable dominance of Amazon in online retailing. Founded in 1994, the company made an immediate splash in online book sales, and began expanding into other retail areas in 1998. Recognizing Amazon’s deadly impact on bookstore chains, like Borders and Barnes & Noble, other retailers quickly launched online sites and portals but most failed outright and none quelled Amazon’s forward motion.

That included Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, which opened for business in 2000. Fast forward to earlier this year when, nearly two decades after beginning its online sales, analysts recognized that Walmart was beginning to overtake Amazon in some markets. In fact, many believe that Amazon’s proposed acquisition of Whole Foods is designed, at least partly, to bolster the company against Walmart’s notable position in grocery sales.

Would have succeeded more quickly if the company had better, forward-looking advice? That’s impossible to say, but the stress and anxiety of companies unprepared for technological evolution are clear in the new Dell Technologies-sponsored study by the Institute for the Future (IFTF), “The Next Era of Human-Machine Partnerships.”

The importance of digital transformation

In the complementary 2016 Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Index, over 4,000 global business leader respondents helped bring those challenges to light. Over half (52%) said their industries had experienced significant technological disruption over the past three years. Moreover, slightly fewer (48%) said they didn’t know what their industries would look like in three years, and nearly as many (45%) believe there’s a possibility their businesses will become obsolete within 3-5 years.

Further, the Index noted that pressure to use IT to transform organizations is relentless, especially related to enhancing their competitive positions. Nearly two thirds (62%) of participants have seen new competitors arise as a result of digital technologies and over three fourths (78%) consider digital start-ups as a threat to their business, both now and in the future. In addition to competitor issues, over half (56%) of respondents’ customers are also advocating transformational changes.

What constitutes digital-driven transformational change? The Dell Index notes five critical attributes:

  1. Innovate in an agile way
  2. Predictive new opportunities
  3. Transparency & trust
  4. Personalized experiences
  5. Always on in real time

Unfortunately, the progress of Index participant’s transformations could be considerably better, with over three quarters (78%) saying transformation could be more widespread in their organizations.

Plus, only about a third of respondents said their companies are succeeding with some critical digital business attributes and just 7% are executing all five attributes well, company-wide. That’s nearly double the 4% who made similar claims in the 2015 Index but it’s still alarmingly small.

2030: Transformational technologies and their impact

The IFTF’s “The Next Era of Human-Machine Partnerships.” report identified emerging technologies they believe will underpin key changes by 2030:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)
  • Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
  • Robotics
  • Cloud Computing
  • Internet of Things

The group’s view of those disruptions isn’t as gloomy as some might assume, given the plethora of technology visionaries and business leaders who warn of the potential dangers of AI and the danger to traditional work and workers posed by robotic devices.

Instead, the IFTF researchers believe that “new relationships” between technologies and people will create opportunities for innovative partnerships that could benefit everyone involved.

For example, the joining of human creativity, passion and entrepreneurship with machines’ capacity for speed, automation and efficiency could redefine productivity for workers and businesses. The researchers also believe that by 2030, personalized, predictive AI “assistants” will enhance our day to day lives.

Similarly, while technology won’t necessarily replace workers or jobs outright, it will fundamentally change the process of finding work, favoring individuals with special skills and competencies.

That touches another of the IFTF researchers’ conclusions—that some 85% of the jobs in 2030 haven’t yet been invented. Just as importantly, they believe the pace of technological change will become so rapid that the ability to adapt, and gain new knowledge will become more important than the knowledge itself.

Final analysis

How true or likely is any of this? I could say get back to me in 2030 but perhaps a better exercise would be to look back thirteen years to 2004.

At that point, the IT industry was finally rebounding from the bust. Cig iron Unix and mainframe systems held admirable positions in data center sales though x86-based systems were growing nicely. In fact, EMC had surprised everyone by acquiring x86 virtualization leader VMware early in the year, a deal its storage competitors and server vendor partners were quick to disparage.

In endpoint markets, PCs were in high cotton with Windows XP helping to get bust-depressed sales back on track. The growth in messaging services ad Internet-based resources, plus increasingly lightweight laptops coupled with Intel’s new Centrino wireless chipsets inspired consumers and workers to take computers most anywhere.

Regular folks carried cellular flip phones while high tech workers and others were obsessed with RIM’s “Crackberry” devices. The appearance of Apple’s iPhone and other smart mobile devices was still three years away.

How far we’ve come seldom provides an entirely accurate map of how far we have to go. But when you consider the past decade+ worth of changes and the continuing, exponential technological advances expected in the years ahead, a future of new relationships between people and digital technologies, including personalized AI assistants, seems not just possible but probable.

Only time will determine the full accuracy of the conclusions of “The Next Era of Human-Machine Partnerships” study and report. But by virtually any measure, Dell Technologies and the IFTF have provided intriguing, potentially valuable guidance about the continuing evolution of digital technology and its eventual impact on individuals and organizations.

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