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Gearing up for a future workforce of man and machine

Digitalisation have impacted all industries, and business leaders need to learn how to manage the evolving human-machine relationships.

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According to a survey of 3,800 business leaders around the world, more than eight in 10, or 82 per cent, of respondents said that they expect humans and machines to work as integrated teams within five years.

MOST business leaders in Singapore expect man and machine to work hand in hand in the near future, yet far fewer leaders believe that their companies are currently well-equipped to lead the way in digitalisation.

According to a survey of 3,800 business leaders around the world, more than eight in 10, or 82 per cent, of respondents said that they expect humans and machines to work as integrated teams within five years.

More specifically, among business leaders from Singapore, that figure stands slightly higher at 86 per cent.

Yet, only 21 per cent of Singapore business leaders believe they are ingraining digital in all they do, below the global average of 27 per cent.

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This survey was commissioned by Dell Technologies and undertaken by Vanson Bourne, an independent research company, and completed in June to August last year.

The three key obstacles cited by Singapore business leaders that prevent a successful digital business are: the lack of a digital vision and strategy, lack of workforce readiness and technology constraints.

At the same time, they are divided on whether new technologies represent more of an opportunity or a threat.

The same survey showed that slightly more than half, or 52 per cent, said that the more we depend upon technology, the more we'll have to lose in the event of a cyber attack, while the remaining 48 per cent disagreed.

Commenting on the survey, Jeremy Burton, chief marketing officer of Dell Technologies, said: "There tends to be two extreme perspectives about the future: the anxiety-driven issue of human obsolescence or the optimistic view that technology will solve our greatest social problems.

"These differing viewpoints could make it difficult for organisations to prepare for a future that's in flux and would certainly hamper leaders' efforts to push through necessary change."

Despite such differing views on the nature of new technologies, Singapore business leaders are more united in the need to transform.

An overwhelming 92 per cent of respondents said that their businesses will complete the transition to a software-defined business within the next five years, while 83 per cent said that they will use artificial intelligence (AI) to pre-empt customer demands.

Eric Goh, managing director and vice-president, Singapore Enterprise Business, Dell EMC, said: "While there are differing views in the way leaders forecast the future, Singapore remains ahead of the global curve with more respondents believing in the transformative impact of technology in overcoming the digital barriers ahead."

At a dialogue session in Singapore, titled "Realising the Future of Work: A Divided Vision", experts from Dell EMC and other companies weighed in on the findings.

The panel of experts agreed that digitalisation have impacted all industries, and business leaders need to learn how to manage the evolving human-machine relationships.

David Yeo, chief learning architect at Kydon Group said: " I think the shift into a digital world is a shift in a mindset."

He pointed out this shift needs to come from business leaders. He said that they will need to embrace learning, be willing and able to disrupt themselves. This means they must admit that there is knowledge they do not know, and be willing to search and ask for answers.

He said: "When their followers see such habits or behaviours, I think it will be a change and disruption they will be willing to take themselves as well.

"Organisations must allow the staff to embrace change by creating opportunities for disruption. Challenge workshops can be introduced, so that staff themselves can challenge their own mindset with each other in a safe environment."

Mr Yeo described it as similar to a process known in psychology as exposure therapy. He explained that the more people are exposed to potential disruptions in the world around them, the more prepared they will be when these disruptions happen to them.

The moderator of the dialogue, Paul Henaghan, vice-president, Data Centre Solutions, Asia Pacific and Japan at Dell EMC, echoed his view of creating a safe environment.

He added that this safe environment can allow companies to take risks in the digital world. For example, he cited hackathons in DBS Bank as a key reason as to why the company was named the world's best digital bank in 2016.

To add on to Mr Henaghan's example, Dmitri Chen, chief operating officer and vice-president of specialty sales, Asia Pacific and Japan at Dell EMC, said: "Culturally, they (DBS Bank) have said the only way they can be successful moving forward if they have the courage to disrupt themselves constantly."

He stressed that the best companies these days know that it is acceptable to fail, because the only way towards a better outcome is to try new ideas.

Mr Chen said: "Status quo is the comfort zone and change is hard. It takes commitment towards new muscle memory.

"Today, the shift to digital is transforming industries around the world. Even established technology companies need to constantly reinvent themselves to innovate like a startup and deliver like an enterprise."