Singapore is good at using technology in our industries. This is suggested by a study by Burning Glass Technology (BGT), which found that Singapore’s economy in 2019 already saw more digital skill penetration, compared to the corresponding economies in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. To be clear, BGT’s definition of digital skills include both ‘baseline’ skills (use of spreadsheet software, computer literacy) and ‘specific’ skills (programming languages, platform familiarity, etc.). In that light, the findings, which counts simple computer literacy as a ‘skill penetration’, may not seem as impressive.
Nonetheless, our digital skill penetration rate since pre-COVID days likely enabled us to adapt to the circuit breaker and work-from-home as quickly as we did last year. Virtual meetings, in place of face-to-face interactions, is a common practice today and an example of discovering new ways of using technology as our COVID response. However, amidst this positive tone, lies a potentially significant challenge in that, while Singapore is adept at using technology in business, there is much less evidence of our ability to respond to, and adopt, new technologies in innovative ways.
In Deloitte’s Tech Trends 2021 report, this idea of innovative technology adoption in business resounds prominently in their observations of upcoming technology trends. Among the nine key trends identified for 2021, Deloitte provides an interesting perspective in identifying, not only new tech applications for business operations, but, more significantly, opportunities for the strategic layer.
Advanced analytics, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) are being deployed in strategic technology platforms. Advances in machine learning are creating opportunities to make real-time and at-scale decisions with growing data volumes beyond human ability to process as efficiently. As automated data gathering and processing capabilities grow, we can anticipate that organisations’ business and technology strategies will not co-exist independently but drive each other. Furthermore, with such technology and real-time data processing within one’s grasp, business strategy development would become a continuous and dynamic endeavour, instead of the traditional one-off, time-consuming efforts.
In short, technology does not only enhance how our business and workers operate, it can inform us how the entire business can evolve, transform and grow.
However, the technology by itself is not an answer to all of one’s strategic business needs. As business strategy and technology functions overlap more with inter-operability, Deloitte observed many corporate executives beginning to experience the necessity – and the challenge – to speak in both business and technology languages; to deep-dive into specific pros and cons of various technology solutions against their strategic assumptions and the business problems that need solving. The effective business leaders (CEO, CIO and/or CSO) are those who possesses that balance of business and technology knowledge to examine the underlying technological logic, search for disconfirming data and carefully evaluate the organisation’s assumptions about how the technology will advance the strategy without taking on inadvertent risks.
Scenario planning is another strategic skill that comes into play, as the business environment gets increasing complex and uncertain, requiring consideration for a wider range of variables and future scenarios. Adding to this, traditional skills associated with strategy development and implementation – budgeting, outsourcing, collaboration, supply-chain management – all need to take on an additional focus on technological know-how, and it is easy to see that implementing a strategic technological business change is, indeed, not a simple task.
As technology permeates different layers of business and strategic management, Deloitte further observes that the related skills are also transferrable across the different layers of technology application. AI and machine learning (ML) development can benefit from the same engineering and operational (DevOps) discipline applied in software development; AI teams would benefit from acquiring capabilities that complement those data scientists, and, equipped with ML tools and processes, these expanded AI teams could prove capable in addressing challenges related to accountability and transparency, regulation and compliance.
As the emergence of vaccinations (hopefully) signal the end of the COVID pandemic in Singapore, perhaps it is time to reflect on the lessons of the past year and challenge our understanding and perceptions of technology. Going into the ‘new normal’ business environment, how can we transcend beyond new technological applications at the operational layer, and recognise technology as a strategic business partner?
For business owners and professionals seeking to acquire skills related to machine learning, AI and data to revamp your organisations, this list of courses at #MySkillsFuture (https://go.gov.sg/2089jk) might be a good place to start.