New technologies are drastically changing the way we work – I have dedicated many articles to the different aspects of digitalization and its implications for the logistics industry. In this article, I share my thoughts on how new technologies will impact and shape not only our industry in general but also -and specifically- our global workforce.
Various studies offer different opinions about the impact of digitalization. In 2013, researchers at Oxford predicted almost half of all jobs in the United States were likely to be “automated”. In November 2017, McKinsey concluded that up to one-third of the constituent activities could be automated, implying substantial workplace transformations and changes for all workers. They also predicted that only five percent of those jobs would be fully automized.
What impact does digitalization have?
No one can predict the full extent of the opportunities and risks which the rise of new technologies will entail. But I believe that some scenarios in this respect are more likely than others.
The more probable changes are those already underway in our field or in similar functions in other industries: What is to be very expected, is the broader deployment of robots automating tasks e.g. the unloading of parcels from trucks onto conveyor belts. Another soon-to-come technology likely to be widely implemented will be Robot Process Automation (RPA). These will, for example, be able to cut payroll processing times from several hours to a few minutes. Robots and Robotic Process Automation systems will perform process steps that handle high-volume and repetitive tasks, and these are just two examples out of many more technologies out there.
Collaborating with technology
The aim of this automation is to free up employees time for more valuable tasks. Fast maturing technologies, as those mentioned above, are driving this transformation.
Most jobs in logistics will be partly affected by artificial intelligence, especially those leveraging RPA and machine learning. But this is expected to happen in a way that facilitates partnerships between humans and collaborative robots (or “co-bots”) to get work done more effectively. My prediction is, that many job categories will continue to exist but evolve in respect to the tasks they will entail.
I am convinced that the collaboration between employees and robots/bots will soon be a new and exciting normal. We have already received some very positive feedback from our employees about the processes in which we have introduced bots.
Adapting to the likely changes
What is my recommendation for those of us in leading positions in terms of taking this development to the next level? The changes will multiply as the underlying technologies are fully adopted by organizations.
Your organization will change quite a lot as technologies are continuously adopted by employees and integrated into processes. To understand the extent of this change, I recommend a technology adoption assessment:
- Define employee clusters within your organization, based on the activities they perform – for example, data processing.
- Trace the relevant technologies back to these employee clusters and eventually determine their impact.
As an example, RPA is a fast-maturing technology that automates rule-based tasks such as data processing. In Deutsche Post DHL Group, some of these tasks are performed by our service desk staff. Once RPA handles the repetitive tasks, employee roles will evolve to focus on activities like exception handling and solution development. To master these tasks, the most important skills of the service desk staff will be effective communication and problem-solving.
- Identify upskilling possibilities that empower your employees to help your organization stay ahead of the curve in the digital age. I believe lifelong learning concepts need to be a priority point on every business leader’s agenda.
- Explore new evolving tasks and skills, and develop concepts on how to hire the right experts from the market and to how to accelerate, e.g. capabilities to program bots and run bot farms.
I am certain that the combination of an adequate training concept, the right enablement, and early strategic sourcing will get everyone to the spot: AI technology and humans complementing each other’s work in the most effective way. This requires encouraging your employees to stay curious and taking away any negative conceptions they may have by trusting them and giving them reasons to trust you.
Of course, the impact of some technologies is less predictable. This includes tech that is still in the conceptualization phase and has yet to prove its applicability in the industry.
For example, DPDHL Group continues to monitor and explore the potential impact of blockchain technology for our business. We are also tracking developments in autonomous driving – a not brand-new but still very exciting trend that has the potential to profoundly disrupt the job cluster “drivers”.
Adapting to the uncertain changes
At present, we cannot accurately anticipate exactly how technologies will disrupt our work and industry. Instead, we have to be ready to respond to minor and major changes when necessary. This is easier said than done, as it requires a significantly more flexible mindset and for many organizations, a very basic cultural shift in my opinion.
Digitalization means fast and continuous evolution in a hyper-connected business environment characterized by increasing competition and changing workforce aspirations. A complementing company culture that fosters agility, collaboration and diversity is going to be a crucial differentiator in the digital age. Visible cultural elements such as language and dress code, as well as invisible cultural elements such as perceptions and behavioral norms must be both addressed for an effective cultural shift.
Our experience with many innovative initiatives suggests that companies can start small and build from there – a cultural and mindset shift can be sparked by something as simple as a reduction in approval requirements.
Digitalization impacts everyone: Sharing the responsibility to adapt
My key message is: Digitalization will impact almost every role in the organization, at least to a certain extent. As a result, the responsibility to adapt needs to be shared by everyone. As leaders, we have to ensure that it happens.
It is important to embrace these technologies, but at the same time actively address the workforce transitions and challenges they bring along. At DPDHL, we encourage our employees to ask themselves: How can I deliver excellence to my customers? To drive change, it is essential that each individual understands the challenges of their departments and business units within and beyond their specific job responsibilities.
Success in the digital age will only be possible if everyone takes responsibility for the development of the right skills. Now. I am certain that we can do it.