CFoW Podcast - Episode 5: How Intelligent Automation Reshapes the Corporate Structure

HR, finance, procurement, supply chain and customer experience operate as separate functions within organizations. But are these silos still relevant in today’s digital era?  More specifically, does intelligent automation, with its ability to optimize business processes, offer a digital means to break down these corporate walls and create a more homogenous organization? And if so, to what end? In this fifth episode of the CFOW podcast series, we’ll explore just that with Phil Fersht, founder and CEO of HfS Research.

Ringing in 2018

Let’s start with a Happy New Year to you and yours. How was it for you and what did you think of 2017? Putting Trump, Brexit and #MeToo aside, it proved to be an intriguing year. Over the Christmas break, I picked up the vibe from friends and family and the general sentiment was that it wasn’t a vintage year (everyone seems pessimistic). But I suspect as you march through your 40s (as most of my friends bewilderingly find ourselves) you tend to look at events in the past with rose tinted glasses without acknowledging the reality of what was really going on (trust me, if you were 14 in 1984 and watched Threads you were VERY nervous). So despite the gloom, it feels to me like we’re starting to establish a new equilibrium in the West. New codes of behavior on how we live, work and relate to one another. So I am going to focus on the positives. And the ideas we’ve been exploring over 2017 do indeed, give me cause for hope and some of them are certainly bearing fruit.

Looking back, the Centre for the Future of Work produced some distinctive and innovative studies in 2017. We had investigations and ideas about Leadership in the machine age; how to raise the pace of innovation through companies while not breaking its corporate culture i.e. Fast but not furious; There was an intriguing study on the Future of Block chain which demands a European point of view (hint: it will happen in 2018). Augmenting the reality of everything appeared towards the end of the year, and the hunch is it’s going to be huge—“firms are going to begin weaving immersive technologies into a customer, employee, supplier or partner interaction – or else risk irrelevance in the years to come”. Spot on! I blogged about this because I have a hunch the Paris Olympics in 2024 will be the most augmented, immersive, truly virtual Olympics ever as the French economy begins to hit its mark. It really will be something to behold, and if you’re lucky enough to travel to the city of light in 2024 then hold tight.

Over Christmas, I read about a real-world application of Virtual Reality that bears out some of the ideas found in my colleague Rob Brown’s report. Virtual-reality is being used to prevent crime and accidents before they happen and, as the father of two teenagers, I fully embrace it. One of my kids is near driving age but it’s the younger one that’s really into cars and driving. It isn’t hard to imagine a car-crash, but these new tools could be used to help him really appreciate what is at stake. Check out how Police forces in England are using VR experiences as a driver education tool. The deal is you put a headset on, and you turn into the passenger next to the driver in a small car with other teenagers crowded in the back—your mates—speeding along a country lane. The driver is not drunk, but he is distracted by a meme on his damn smartphone which he shows you and the other passengers in the car. Then suddenly a tractor-trailer emerges from a blind exit, and the screen goes black. You then find yourself standing at a funeral party watching the coffin being lowered into the ground. The crash never happened but is uncannily real to large numbers of young people that have seen this harrowing virtual-reality film shot from the point of view of you, the front seat passenger. According to reports, loud and lairy teenagers tended to be a lot quieter after seeing it. I think this is a great way we can use these technologies to change behaviors and we can expect increasingly imaginative uses of virtual-reality in 2018 as a way of changing our real-world behaviors. You might worry that it all smacks of the minority report, i.e. pre-crime prevention, but showing people the possible consequences of their decisions feels the right thing to do.

In 2017 I think we started getting used to technology and we are beginning to settle ourselves around it. As a sign of that, 2017 saw Europe begin to flex its legislative muscles around data and data use. The topic of GDPR in the UK even made the agenda for our school governors meeting at our local school (it did feel like an episode of the Vicar of Dibley but it shows how every organization no matter where it is, is waking up to what data and its use or misuse could mean). And in an era of fake news, Europe has some rather bad form when it comes to press-freedom from the 1930s that it is eager not to repeat. As a testament to this, towards the end of 2017, a new law went into force in Germany, compelling Facebook and other social-media companies to conform to freedom of speech. The “Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz” or the “Network Enforcement Law,” or the “Facebook Law,” gives the government powers to fine those social-media platforms that have more than 2 million registered users in Germany (yes that’s you Twitter, YouTube, Instagram). The fines can reach an eye watering €50 million for those companies that are seen to be enabling “manifestly unlawful” posts up for more than 24 hours. Unlawful content is defined as anything that violates Germany’s Criminal Code, which bans incitement to hatred, incitement to crime, the spread of symbols belonging to unconstitutional groups, and more. But what makes content “manifestly” illegal is left up to human—or algorithmic—judgment. A transition period expired January 2018 and was meant to give companies time to figure out how to comply...I hope they’re ready. 2018 is going to be very interesting.

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Augmenting Your Future Job Title - and Monetization - with Augmented Reality

The monetization possibilities for taking augmented reality from abstract possibility to commercial reality are huge. Everywhere that humans move through space and time -- an "AR journey" presents an opportunity to change customer interaction.

The Center for the Future of Work just published a widened aperture of the long game on augmented reality. Organizations across industries need to begin weaving immersive technologies into customer, employee, supplier and partner interactions – or risk irrelevance in the years to come.

What does all this mean for the jobs needed to build this out tomorrow? In a world of immersive AR technologies, activities that humans do well will be even more important. Recombination of skills will create new jobs.

We see new creative roles emerging. Imagine “AR journey builders” collaborating with engineering leads and technical artists to craft or otherwise harness an explosion of new, in-the-moment content by leveraging AI and algorithms to map tens of thousands of permutations and possibilities calibrated to individualized tastes.

It’s not difficult to imagine myriad teams needed to design, write, create, calibrate, gamify, sceneset and – most importantly – personalize the next generation of stories and AR journeys. These continually forming, swarming agglomerating teams will craft interactive “virtual vignettes,” leveraging prior-art from any filmic genre or vernacular imaginable.

If customers like their work, AR journey builders and their teams will be paid handsome bonuses. And the collective genius of their vignettes could be replicated by platform, ready for use, redeployment and recombination into additional situations and parameters, with royalties attached in perpetuity.

Much as composers, bricklayers and playwrights were in demand a century ago, AR journey builders might be thought of as their 21st century successors, transposed to the medium of augmented reality – equal parts “experience conductors,” “data overlayers” and “CX/UXwrights.”

The following categories provide just a few of the many examples possible.

Connecting people:

  • Remote writing of journey plots.
  • Telepresence for journey builder squads.
  • Ecosystems of field service technicians.
  • “Be there” livestreaming of events and tourism experiences.

Coaching people:

  • Remotely helping people get better at things (fitness, health finances, etc.).
  • Teaching/credentialing.
  • Interior design.
  • Work task training, workplace safety.

Caring for people:

  • Remote caregiving and interactions (for seniors, disabled, etc.).
  • Storytelling.
  • “See what I see” in–the-moment troubleshooting.
  • Remote “wing men/wing women,” meditation guides, biofeedback coaches, and mental health and wellness professionals.

All the World's a Stage in AR: Make Way for the Experience Economy

The potential for AR technologies to change our experiences as we move through time and space in our personal and business lives may also usher in the next chapter of what some are calling “The Experience Economy.”

Augmented reality will be a catalyst, and journeys everywhere will be an open door for creativity, self-actualization and experiences. Thinking about the future possibilities from a B2C perspective might look something like this:

  • Want to know what it’s like to be on-stage with the E Street Band? Facebook/Rift will put you next to the Boss at the venue of your choice.
  • Want to experience what it’s like to run a French vineyard? Airbnb will arrange it for you.
  • Want to chat with Captain Scott in his hut in Antarctica? Khan Academy and HoloLens, working in partnership, have it all set up.

Say you’re a huge fan of George R. R. Martin and are on a five-hour plane ride from JFK to SFO. What if you could plug into your AR Game of Thrones immersive channel and dynamically interact with different characters, settings or kingdoms? When you get bored, how about switching to the Indiana Jones channel, or venturing into the world of Stranger Things, Harry Potter or the dancers of La La Land? And so on?

The rise of the experience economy means that even stalwarts among the traditional media and entertainment companies may – quickly – encounter Silicon Valley juggernauts as their biggest competitors.

Consider strategic initiatives like Airbnb’s Experiences (overseen by none other than Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky himself), which includes everything from exploring Havana’s music scene to visiting street markets in London. Though happening in “real reality” today, the sky’s the limit for initiatives like these in the augmented reality tomorrow.

Beyond the world of entertainment, we also believe AR will be used to resolve entrenched issues faced by people and societies today. Sample headlines aligned with improving work, health and policy decisions might look something like this:

  • Want to know what climate change could look like? Using NOAA Data, Google Earth Has Modeled Any Timeframe within the Next 500 Years
  • Want to see the future of your work? ZipRecruiter, in Partnership with LinkedIn, Can Show You Potential Career Pathways Over the Next 10 Years
  • Want to see what your body looks like if you fail to stay healthy? Fitbit and Oculus Show You the Damage of a Sedentary Lifestyle, and the Value of Staving Off Preventable Diseases.

Plenty more examples will emerge of old processes, tasks and work being consumed by the new technologies of AR, in combination with algorithms, automation and AI. Today’s car companies could be tomorrow’s leading game companies. Moribund retailers could reboot as immersive space businesses. Hospitality organizations could supplant movies, TV and social media by delivering consumers’ wants and needs of augmented immersion.

Augmented reality will improve ways of working, relating with customers and generating value. The coming Experience Economy will couple imagination and creativity together, yielding large-scale abundance and discovery of new business processes, showing us a world augmented far beyond what’s been imaginable so far.

The new whitepaper from the Center for the Future of Work is entitled: “Augmenting the Reality of Everything”. It can be downloaded at: