The World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos is always a favourite of journalists and commentators. Every year, world leaders and global CEOs descend on the tiny Alpine resort, and provide the basis of hundreds of news stories.
So it’s no surprise the WEF’s 2018 prediction that automation and AI could displace 75 million jobs by 2022 sparked numerous column inches and the usual online discussion and debate. What was often missed out of the coverage, however, was the positive side of their prediction — that the same technology would create 133 million new roles, as companies re-work the division of labour between humans and machines.
Of course, nobody in Davos that year could have predicted the extraordinary disruption to the world economy in 2020. Or the resulting acceleration in digital transformation. So, while everyone agreed that the future lies squarely in digital technology, it’s now clear that the future is approaching faster than even the WEF anticipated.
This acceleration is evident everywhere you look. Remote working has been normalised across almost all service industries. While primary and secondary industries are basing their new strategies primarily on digitalisation. Educators and students are teaching and learning from home. Doctors are doing video consultations by default. And some restaurants are even choosing to continue prioritising home deliveries, despite lockdown rules easing.
IT skills are vital for recovery and resilience
If the 133 million new roles that the WEF so optimistically predicted are ever to materialise, one thing needs urgent attention is the IT skills gap.
Even before the coronavirus crisis, a Global Knowledge survey found more than two-thirds of IT decision-makers were seeing a gap between their team’s skill levels and the knowledge they need to achieve their business goals. While blockchain, AI and cognitive computing topped the list of desired skills, the gap extends to cover the whole spectrum of IT knowledge. In fact, 38% reported difficulty in finding qualified cybersecurity talent, and 29% identified cloud computing as a recruitment challenge. 25% of respondents listed virtualisation, networking and Internet of Things (IoT) as priorities for the future, too.
So, as the COVID-19 disruption begins to slow – it’s clear that both technology and up-skilling must feature as central pillars of any business strategy.
Six ways technology can support business, post-disruption
Today, many organisations across the world have stopped talking in terms of rescue, and begun talking about recovery and resilience. If they’re going to create some of those 133 million new jobs the WEF has predicted, there are six crucial pieces of advice to bear in mind on the use of technology.
- Continue to empower remote working
Many countries are taking steps back towards normality. But that doesn’t mean localised outbreaks of COVID-19 are unthinkable, or even a global second spike. In fact, it’s possible some markets will need to go into lockdown all over again. For that reason, it’s important that businesses invest in the best tools to enable teamwork and communication, both on and off premises, on a wide range of devices – from desktops and tablets to laptops and phones.
Microsoft Teams has proven one of the most popular platforms for this, globally. It provides a comprehensive and flexible environment for businesses to shift to remote working, as well as complementing the rich functionality of Office 365 applications. And through the Microsoft Level Up programme, there’s all sorts of free training available.
- Boost cyber security
In striving for business continuity, lots of companies will admit that security was demoted to a second-order issue during the crisis. As remote working is undoubtedly here to stay – even once the virus is eradicated – it’s important that every business takes extra steps to protect its data. There are all sorts of quick wins, simple steps and practical tips for doing this. Plus, Microsoft has made lots of information available on multifactor authentication, Microsoft Secure Score and ‘Zero Trust’ security, among other things – all of which can enhance data protection.
- Enable rapid innovation
The ability to innovate rapidly means businesses can adapt to a changing market situation and maintain business continuity – often ahead of their competitors. Healthcare organisations have done exactly that during the COVID-19 crisis by building and deploying bots to deal with huge spikes in calls.
Azure is Microsoft’s industry-leading cloud platform – used by organisations of all kinds in virtually every country on the planet – and is the perfect environment for companies to modernise their existing apps, or build completely new ones. There are lots of Azure courses and certifications in the Microsoft Level Up programme. From ‘Learn the Azure Basics’ to advanced data science skills with ‘Learn AI with the AI Business School’.
- Remote sales and services
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, fast and real-time support will be more crucial than ever. DR. Martens have already started using real-time inventory visibility to adapt to changing demand fast, and deliver products on time. With tools like Microsoft Dynamics 365, companies can accelerate digital buying and personalised shopping experiences. And like with Azure, Microsoft offers several free courses on how to use the technology.
- Help developers to collaborate remotely
Any company that employs in-house developers will confirm that remote working can often lead to a drop in quality. With the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, however, developers can code together and deliver software remotely by administering infrastructure, creating serverless applications and building automated workflows.
- Migrate more infrastructure to the cloud
With the economic future still uncertain, all areas of business will come under pressure to cut costs. In fact, research has shown 86% of CFOs intend to make savings as a result of COVID-19.
One of the most practical ways to do this is to move from direct-ownership to more flexible, on-demand models. Migrating IT infrastructure to cloud platforms like Azure can optimise costs and keep business operations resilient. Microsoft have even created a tool to estimate the cost savings a business might achieve by moving to Azure.