In the course of time the notion of value has taken on a twofold meaning: we recognize both economic value and values in the moral sense. So when we talk about the value of work at a company, we need to strike a balance between ethics and making money. On the financial side, the geese that will lay the golden eggs in terms of productivity and profits are expected to be the collection and analysis of data – on the company itself, on its current customers and target consumers – and in the longer term artificial intelligence (AI). This goal, which will call for a radical transformation in the approach to work and the organisation of the company, is an ambitious one, especially given that many small or medium-sized enterprises are lagging behind when it comes to making the transition to digital technology – as revealed by a recent report from management consulting firm McKinsey entitled ‘What’s now and next in analytics, AI, and automation’. Meanwhile, rethinking the role of people within the new technology environment, enabling them to express that creativity which will always set Man above Machine, will, argue our specialists at l’Atelier BNP Paribas, be a key source of value in the ethical sense.
More than 85% of business leaders acknowledged that they were only ‘somewhat effective’ at meeting goals they set for their data and analytics initiatives.
Around five years ago, many companies embarked on the process of gathering and analysing large volumes of data with a view to getting more out of their businesses. However, even those firms that have really grasped just how important this process is are for the most part only managing to capture a fraction of the potential value in terms of revenue and profit. In this regard, more than 85% of business leaders acknowledged that they were only ‘somewhat effective’ at meeting goals they set for their data and analytics initiatives. There are a number of possible reasons for the gap that exists between the potential and the reality, including: the absence of a real strategic vision on how to use the data; a current inability to acquire the necessary skills; and the difficulty of incorporating data insights into the company’s actual day-to-day workflow. For those companies that have set out to gather and analyse data, being able to surmount these obstacles would bring sizeable benefits.
The use of data promises to enable a company to come up with new high-value-added services which respond to customer and user preferences and, if possible, to anticipate their preferences
Data has the potential to remodel and transform organisations in a way that will usher them into a modern economy that is increasingly based on digital tools. The great value of data insights is to remedy any mismatch between supply and demand and reduce the amount of unused assets by obviating human error and drawing up analyses that are no longer based on broad demographics but on individual behaviour. The most important aspect of all this is to be able to anticipate customer needs and consumer preference.
Betting on AI
OPPORTUNITIES THAT AI CAN BRING TO COMPANIES
The latest advances in robotics, machine learning and AI offer substantial opportunities for companies. The two main promises of AI were widely highlighted during 2016. Firstly, the recent advances in computer calculation speeds and storage capacity were illustrated by the victory achieved by DeepMind’s AlphaGo machine over the Go world champion in March last year. Secondly virtual voice assistant systems based on AI, which open the way for more effective communication between Man and Machine, were also in the news. This new potential, which simply does not exist in the generation of traditional robots already in use in industry, heralds a rise in productivity and an increase in value for companies that invest in these technologies.
The value of AI lies in Man-Machine interaction
Yoni Abittan, a specialist in this field at l'Atelier BNP Paribas, points out: “At the time when Frederick Winslow Taylor’s and Henry Ford’s theories of working practice were in vogue, the groundwork was already being laid for robotisation and the use of machines going beyond the simple division of labour and time-and-motion efficiencies. In the 1940s, we already had Man-Machine interaction in the production chain. And whether we’re talking about AI systems or machines, I think that the real value is to be found in that interaction,” he argues.
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for Google on its energy bill
Automation has the potential to boost productivity, improve precision and increase revenue, as well as optimise solutions to make the company more agile. For instance, Rio Tinto has introduced the use of autonomous trucks at the Pilbara mines in Australia, with the result that its productivity has improved by 10 - 20%. Meanwhile Deep Mind AI has helped Google to slash the energy bill at its data centres by a close to 40%. In the finance sector, automating transactions can help to reduce processing errors by 50%. AI is now beginning to invade ever more sectors, from agriculture to energy, transport and even health. A separate McKinsey report claims that automation could help to increase productivity at a hospital by 10 - 15%, by 25% in the case of aircraft maintenance and lead to a 90% productivity rise in the field of mortgage lending.
Betting on human creativity
Senior Strategic Analyst
AI will enable human beings to step up a gear in terms of skills and quality. It will free up creativity, free up time, and free people from repetitive tasks
The whole issue of automation is a thorny one because it’s now part and parcel of a wider public and media debate about destroying jobs. However, Yoni Abittan stresses that the issue is not really about job destruction but the shifting of tasks and the creation of new jobs. "AI pushes us to bring our skills, knowledge and basic abilities up to date. It enables the creation of new fields of activity, new job descriptions,” he argues, pointing out: “For instance, the InsurTech specialist Lemonade provides AI-based services. In just a few clicks, its customers can obtain insurance cover or submit a claim and receive compensation – all thanks to AI. At the same time. in order to do this, Lemonade has had to do a lot of work on behavioural analysis in order to reduce insurance fraud. Well, this is a roundabout way of illustrating how job destruction can be creative."
Alexandre Cadain, Head of the Postdigital programme at the prestigious Paris-based higher education establishment Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), argues that the notion of Man being replaced by Machines is basically a fantasy that arises from the idea of the advent of “a powerful general intelligence when what we have is a fairly weak specific intelligence, i.e. AI systems that work in certain specific fields and which go beyond human understanding only in areas relating to memory, repetition and precision. Creativity, emotion and human liberty are not about to be overturned by the current generation of algorithms,“ he insists.
It seems certain that automation will shift the centre of gravity of human work away from primary and secondary level tasks and increasingly towards the tertiary sector. There will be some displacement of people but also creation of new jobs for people. For instance, fully one third of all jobs created today did not exist at all just 25 years ago, notably in IT systems, software development, and mobile app creation. The increasing part played by data in the economy and business will boost demand for data analysts and statistics experts. An estimated 250,000 data scientists will be needed in the United States within ten years. So who knows what type of jobs are set to arise from the advent of AI in the world of work?
Human beings have always proved able to adapt to a changing environment. However, Yoni Abittan argues that we need to go back to first principles on training and education. He asks: "What impact are the changes having on our education system? Is the educational setup in France and the USA, for example, still relevant or is it now obsolete? There’s already a fundamental problem: the courses on offer at university aren’t in sync with the needs of the market. Should we perhaps be re-thinking the education system along the lines of (French pioneering digital tech training institute) Ecole 42, where the watchwords are collective learning among peers and reinforcement of learning? And should we be replicating this approach at companies as well?” His answer is clear: “In my opinion companies ought to be adopting approaches such as reverse mentoring and digital beginner training and they should make use of opportunities for inter-generational mutual training.”
However that may be, it does not yet appear to be plain sailing for the use of data analysis and advanced digital techniques such as artificial intelligence. In fact, the worldwide digital transition appears to have stalled somewhat. The US economy is currently reaching only 18% of its ‘digital potential’, while France and the rest of the European Union member countries have on average attained just 12% of the full potential, say the McKinsey report authors.