Future technology investments must empower and empower workers

Investments in technology have continued unabated since the outbreak of the pandemic. While investment will remain high across the landscape, new research from Economist Impact, commissioned by Cognizant, has found that most investment will be focused on one key theme: empowering workers to leverage technology and data insights.

The study shows that global technology adoption shows no signs of slowing down. The vast majority of respondents (80% or more) have adopted or plan to adopt the emerging technologies of advanced analytics, cloud and Internet of Things.

For their study, Economist Impact and Cognizant surveyed over 2,000 executives in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific.

The technical adjustment shows no signs of slowing down

Over 60% of respondents have ventured into the more advanced areas of artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, advanced cloud, robotic process automation, low-code/no-code, crowdsourcing, 5G, and remote work technologies. Meanwhile, over half of respondents commented on the emerging areas of blockchain, quantum computing and virtual/augmented reality.

At first glance, it may seem as if executives are grabbing every technology in sight. Upon closer inspection, the researchers found that the spending spree is less random than it appears.

When executives were asked to rate the extent to which their digital strategy prioritized 12 key imperatives, nine of those imperatives received business-critical attention from at least a third of respondents, and all were rated at least a medium/high priority by over 89% of respondents.

business priorities

Digging a little deeper into the responses, the researchers uncovered three key shifts in technology spending that their analysis says will “profoundly change the nature of enterprise technology in a modern enterprise.”

These shifts are: a need for data insights, a desire to empower (not replace) employees with digital tools, and a knowledge that employees—increasingly—need to be in control of the technologies they use to add value to their business create and their jobs.

1) Getting data-backed insights into people’s hands

The volatility of the last 2+ years has left companies reeling from unpredictable market shifts, changing consumer habits and black swan events. Learning from this experience, many are focused on strengthening data stewardship and investing in tools to take decision-making to a new level.

Over a third of respondents (33%) believe data collection, governance, and developing forecasting and decision-making capabilities are business-critical, and nearly all (97%) rank these activities at least a medium priority.

It’s clear why executives are striving to move data and insight generation higher up the business agenda. Consider recent supply chain challenges caused by post-pandemic disruptions: the large cargo ship clogging the Suez Canal, labor disputes hampering the flow of cargo from industrial hubs.

Executives with robust supply chain data and strong analytics capabilities have the tools to start developing workarounds and contingencies to minimize impact. You can forecast and model the impact of business and market changes, highlight areas of risk and prioritize actions for risk mitigation and optimization.

Additionally, leaders are even more focused on using data and insights to anticipate and adapt to changing customer demands—and then designing the customer experience to meet them. In fact, anticipating customer needs was only cybersecurity in terms of the number of respondents who identified it as mission-critical (44% for cybersecurity and 42% for anticipating customer needs).

Quality customer experience followed closely, with 41% of respondents believing this to be business-critical. New touchpoints with customers, employees, and suppliers are essential survival tools today, and any business armed with nifty, data-driven skills and dashboard views has a head start to weather the turbulent times ahead.

2) Expand people, not replace them

An impressive 96% of respondents prioritize technology investments that expand rather than replace their workforce, and a solid 34% said it was business-critical. That is good news; dystopian tropes like robot overlords are replaced with a more realistic understanding of the future of work. And even if 38% of respondents make operational efficiency a business-critical priority, the goal isn’t to eliminate employees, but to empower them to perform better.

Managers and workers alike are beginning to recognize that the future depends on human-machine collaboration. Both become greater than the sum of their parts through tighter integration—with new tools that multiply employee efforts and channel valuable data and insights to enable better decision-making.

Take the hypothetical example of how a modern field worker might work. Armed with a wealth of data and an augmented reality-supported heads-up display, they could imagine pipelines in the ground beneath their feet. Machine learning algorithms sifting through pipeline data could use pressure drops to predict tiny cracks. This data could be fed to workers to help them identify faults and streamline maintenance and repair processes.

Technology does not replace the worker; It expands their skills, increases productivity and enhances the employee experience.

3) Provide workforce autonomy

The renewed enthusiasm for people-driven and people-centric technology investments is unleashing a new trend: the democratization of technology, cited as a priority by 91% of respondents (26% as a business-critical priority).

This push aims to give workers more control and influence over the technologies they use every day. This comes as a result of the growing realization that there are benefits in bringing those working with technology closer to selection and implementation. In particular, employees are much more likely to engage with technologies that they helped implement.

This increases the return on value of technology investments, which has often been held back by implementation challenges. In fact, the study shows that respondents face a value challenge: Of those respondents who have implemented each of the technologies in the study, nearly half say they are not deriving significant value from their technology investments.

Companies are struggling to realize the full potential of their technology

Greater acceptance could change this relationship for the better. Let’s take automation as an example. When the people best aligned with processes and touchpoints are included in the selection process, they can highlight areas where technology offers the most value. Not only does this improve the value of the technology investment, but it also gives employees confidence that the initiative is intended to enhance the value it brings to the organization, not replace it.

A related technology investment to keep in mind is the rising popularity of no-code/low-code platforms, which 62% of respondents said they have adopted or are adopting. These tools enable business users to develop solutions with little or no background in software development, allowing those closest to the customer or problem to directly intervene in solution development.

It’s a shift that’s expected to evolve significantly in the coming years, especially as leaders seek to build technology environments that empower workers, rather than displace them.

Conclusion

Commenting on the report’s findings, Euan Davis, associate vice president at Cognizant, said, “In a world of rapid technology acceleration, it’s unsurprising that companies are increasing their investment in technology – whether to power a new insight engine or to Creaky replace technologies.”

“While technology can form the cornerstone of investment strategies, the overarching goal is to make the data and insights available to people so they can achieve better results. The future must bring people and technology closer together than ever, so they can respond intuitively to the changing world around them.”

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