First published on Campaign. 

If you were to consider how technology has affected your life over the past 10 years, you’d be hard-pressed to stop at just one device or invention. The leaps we have made in this field, from smartphones to digital personal assistants, would have been difficult to imagine coming to life even a decade ago, let alone seeing them released, refined and re-packaged to us many times over. And there’s plenty more to come. As it develops, technology will not only serve as a useful addition but also advance to predict the future, assist our decision-making and provide a real impact, all in one swift functionality.

We are at the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where digital technologies are leading to exponential change in every industry and at every level. If the Third Revolution was all about automation, then this next stage will continue to disrupt our planning, thinking and strategising in ways we can’t yet fully envision.

Still, we’re not entirely in the dark. We can anticipate how impressive this new technology promises to be: automated decisions made by our virtual personal assistant, personalised health recommendations based on our wearables data and an augmented/virtual reality world tailored specifically to us. While this vision may never be fully realised, we are primed for these potential developments. What is less clear is how well prepared we are for the amalgamation of this technology and its human impact.

Both literally and figuratively this merger has already begun, through wearables, hearables and voice-powered assistants at home. We are actively embracing this technology in a bid to enjoy a more convenient lifestyle. The same is true of the workplace: bots are spreading across customer service departments while some companies are fitting employees with sensors to track their sleep, emotional state or interactions with people. As intelligent automation and machine learning become ever more reliable, has the ‘traditional’ job – or human role –become obsolete?

The last century has been focused on making business processes and company structures acquired from the Industrial Revolution more efficient. While there have been many attempts to revisit and move away from conventional roles, we have yet to truly align organisations with the new and upcoming tech-infused business landscape. In a world where sensors are everything and data flows freely, issues can be addressed and problems solved increasingly fast. For consumers as well as employees, it will be about the experience with an organisation and its products or services, and will be a priority of its leaders. Some have even called for the role and function of the traditional CEO to change to that of a chief experience officer instead of chief executive.

This new breed of CEO is tasked with instigating and facilitating a culture of transformation, giving people the necessary tools to change. The result is what Dave Coplin, former tech evangelist at Microsoft UK and CEO of The Envisioners, calls “transformational experiences”. These themes, explored further in Merge, PHD’s latest thought-leadership publication, encompass everyone, from the workforce to stakeholders, clients and consumers, all unified with a clear and
consistent message.

It all begins by empowering employees to think differently and operate outside a job spec, even seeking inspiration outside the industry. Building up these “intelligent organisms”, rather than mere organisations, will be commonplace. These will thrive on a data culture where employees not only identify the questions but also confidently understand the potential of and limitations on technology, to deploy answers and actions where needed. The results will be a lift in our capabilities, not oppression of them.

Rather than it being a case of man vs machine, each will be empowered by the other. They will learn from one another and create a pragmatic partnership. It’s the evolution of this merger that will change the way in which we work, market and consume. In the coming years, roles traditionally done manually will be fulfilled by machine learning, while micro decisions will be made by algorithms. As a result, marketers will be able to consider the bigger brand picture and develop the marketing technology and immersive experiences the market craves in order to run successful campaigns.

Upskilling teams will be key to staying ahead of the curve, as roles will continue to merge, emerge or fade away. People will increasingly work in a framework, with their ‘intelligent organisms’ reacting to their environment. The rigid structures of a ‘nine-to-five job for life’ are on their way out, with the current gig economy being an early indication of this. Industry leaders will need to set boundaries within this looser structure and craft effective curriculum in order to make sure the education systems produce the right kind of talent to support this transformation.

Trying to keep up with these seismic shifts will be a role in itself. CEOs and leaders alike will need to forecast the future, predict the trends and align their teams to move alongside – if not ahead of – this impending technological boom. Being agile will be key to ensuring a smooth transition; one in which technology and human intelligence merge to form a newer, more cohesive experience at every level of the business. It’s time we changed the organisational structure – not to one dedicated to efficiency, but one focused on effectiveness.