Business Tech

Adapting to High-Tech Impact

Competition for jobs is fierce. College graduates are entering the workforce with mountains of student loans while vying for a limited number of jobs in their chosen career paths. The middle class continues feeling squeezed out of existence, and rallying cries demanding that corporations bring jobs back to the United States can be heard from coffee shops on Main Street to nationally televised presidential debates.

But foreign manufacturing, cheap overseas labor and global outsourcing aren’t the only threats to the American workforce. Technological advancements have been both a blessing and a curse to America’s economy, businesses, and labor force. It’s hard to argue the convenience, benefits of automation, effectiveness, and streamlining of processes that technology provides. However, cultural fears of job displacement due to technology are also very real, and some believe that technology has advanced too far, signifying the beginning of the end for our economy.

For the last half-century, more and more jobs—including skilled career positions--have simply vanished from today’s job market. These jobs have become outdated and antiquated by machines that can do a day’s work of dozens of humans with a push of a button. So what does this mean for the workforce of tomorrow?

Serial entrepreneur and technology guru, Ajay Prasad, said that while increased technological integrations in business are inevitable, humans and machines can co-exist. “Every significant change creates new opportunities for one segment of population while disrupting another segment,” he said. “We cannot stop innovations, so we need to learn to adjust to the changes and figure out how to benefit from change rather than be a victim of it.”

Innovation researcher and MIT School of Management professor Erik Brynjolfsson said in his 2013 TED Talk that the workforce is currently experiencing growing pains similar to that of the Industrial Revolution one hundred years ago.

Despite fears of jobs being outsourced or lost to machines, Brynjolfsson advocates embracing technology as a teammate rather than an adversary.

“Technology is not destiny,” Brynjolfsson said. “We shape our destiny. Just as the early generation of managers needed to redesign their factories, we are going to need to reinvent our organizations and even our whole economic system.”

Prasad argued that although today’s businesses need to embrace technology in order to remain competitive, there’s simply is no replacing the human senses. Humans have the ability to interact and communicate with reasoning, judgment and empathy that cannot be replicated by machines, which means that while the workforce will need to evolve alongside growing technology, it will not be replaced by it.
Additionally, Prasad pointed out that automation increases efficiency by eliminating rote manual or predictable tasks while simultaneously reducing the chance of human error, and it allows companies to better manage their customer satisfaction through automated surveys, increased feedback, and online reputation management. 

“The focus needs to be on what customers want and what companies need to do to operate efficiently,” Prasad explained. “A successful business will grow and create more opportunities than a failing business that decided not to use technology to save jobs. Their competitors will use that technology.”

Prasad added that many employers embracing technology aren’t necessarily abandoning displaced employees. “Businesses can offer training programs to displaced employees to help them better cope with disruptions,” he said. “Incidentally, businesses that embrace technology are generally in a better position to help displaced employees because they have the resources to do it.”

While automation generally produces positive results and helps organizations remain competitive in a global market, there’s also a downside. Prasad explained that becoming automated too quickly can be cost-prohibitive, which can have a detrimental cash flow impact, especially for startups. More so, a lack of human touch can negatively affects outputs.

It isn’t just profits driving the move toward technology; it’s people. Millennials, who’ve grown up surrounded by online technology are entering the workforce are bringing a new way of approaching work processes with them. Consumers have become increasingly tech-savvy and dependent on personal tech devices and social media, resulting in a new demand for the tech trends that are now affecting how companies conduct business.

In just a few short years, social media has completely redefined marketing for businesses ranging from local mom-and-pop shops to major global corporations. It allows for instant feedback, dynamic interaction between businesses and consumers, and has changed the face of brand reputation management.

“Social media, when done properly, gets a business instant feedback through Facebook comments, tweets and reviews,” Prasad said. “Followers are likely to share positive business news to their social media network.”

Brands need this coveted positive online feedback to adapt to the changing face of consumerism. Consumers are no longer content to listen to a company’s brand messaging; they rely on social media dialogue to make their purchasing decisions.
“It’s easy to complain about a bad experience and that can easily go viral,” Prasad warned. “Building social media followers can be a double-edged sword because people following a company closely can amplify any missteps.” Prasad added that it takes a significant amount of investment, time, and consistency to manage a brand’s online presence.

When companies, especially entrepreneurs and small businesses, endeavor to keep up with demands to automate and integrate technology, there are three rules Prasad suggests for making sure their efforts and expenditures help rather than hinder a growing business.

“List all routine manual tasks and automate as many of them as possible. Keep up with new and emerging technologies that may help the business. Stay on top of the latest cyber security technology and implement them as much as possible,” Prasad said.

“The biggest drawback of automation is less human contact with customers,” he added. “As a result, businesses need to be increasingly vigilant with the content that is made available to customers and prospects through social media. Management needs to be involved in all messages related to the brand and must institute certain automated tools such as emails, surveys and SMS to increase customer feedback.”

“The new machine age is more about knowledge creation than just physical production. It’s mind not matter, brain not brawn, ideas not things,” Brynjolfsson said.

“I’m optimistic, because the new machine age is digital, exponential and combinatorial,” Brynjolfsson explained, adding that we are often taken by surprise when faced with the capacity of rapidly changing technology. Change and surprise creates fear.

Brynjolsson describes the effects of this period in technological advancements as “the great decoupling,” which is what causes so much distress among today’s workers. Even though productivity is at an all-time high, income and employment have dropped.
The upside, Brynjolfsson added, is that new innovation begets new innovation; each piece is a building blocks for human creativity.

“Instead of racing against the machine, we need to learn to race with the machine,” he said. It took factories of the Industrial Revolution decades to catch up with the ability to replace steam engines with electric motors, but when the processes began to realign with potential, productivity and jobs surged in tandem.

When humans work with machines, using innovation to build new systems, we have the potential to unlock a new future where man and technology coexist to create greatness neither could achieve alone.

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