Companies in the UAE must make strategic shifts in order to unleash the intelligent enterprise, according to Mike Sutcliff, Group CEO of Accenture Digital, speaking to Arabian Business about Accenture’s Technology Vision Report 2018.
He explains that the Intelligent enterprise approach – a management approach that applies technology to the challenge of improving business performance – is no longer a thing of the future. The report notes how it has already started mushrooming in the region thanks to the rapid advances made in Artificial Intelligence and emerging technologies. However, the UAE still needs to make strategic shifts to unleash its full potential. “The future is now but it is unevenly distributed,” he says as both a promise and a warning to future-minded companies.
This work is at the core of Accenture Digital’s mission as one of the largest end-to-end providers of digital transformation capabilities in the world. The digital division is five divisions of the US company, which was founded in 1951, and is now a partner with more than three-quarters of the Fortune Global 500, driving innovation to improve the way the world works and lives.
Its annual Technology Vision Report, the company revealed in detail the five emerging digital trends that will shape the way technology increases business impact across societies in the region and the beyond. It looks at how artificial intelligence can benefit businesses, together with augmented reality, virtual reality, extended reality (XR) – which it bills as the first technology to “relocate” people in time and space; the importance of trust with data veracity, enabling a frictionless business that is built to partner at scale, and creating intelligent distributed systems.
The UAE has been in the fore when it comes to accepting emerging technologies and trying to find a way to implement it in governmental and business operations in order to derive revenue from it. This has increasingly been the case with blockchain and artificial intelligence. The UAE aims to ensure that by 2021 half of its government’s transactions are conducted on a blockchain platform and has also set an ambitious goal of becoming the global leader with regards to AI adoption by 2031.
However, it is not free from challenges when it comes to the implementation including the availability of data and the use of AI in different industries and environments – a point that Sutcliff acknowledges.
“We have a fairly fragmented environment in this region so we need to bring the data together and make it useful for machine-learning algorithms. And sometimes we just need more scale of data. We are hoping to work with our many partners in the ecosystem to see how we can bring some of that data together to make it useful for different types of artificial intelligence applications,” he explains.
We have a fairly fragmented environment in this region so we need to bring the data together and make it useful
Research by Accenture shows that AI has the potential to boost economic growth in the UAE alone by 1.6 percent, adding $182bn to the economy by 2035. And in Saudi Arabia it’s estimated that the boost will be just over one percent adding $215bn to the economy by 2035. “There is a lot of trapped value and the digital tools and the techniques we are working with will help unlock that potential,” says Sutcliff. “We think there is the potential to unlock hundreds of billions of dollars of opportunity and that is across all industries. And we think we can help accelerate GDP fairly significantly,” in the process he adds.
The start-up and SME segment can also benefit greatly but this uplift is not without its challenges. While they are reaping the benefits of digital transformation to ease out the process of starting and carrying through their businesses, there still exists a constant fear and insecurity of being eaten up by the corporate giants, who they think have more access to emerging technologies given their monetary advantage.
Sutcliff debunks this myth by bringing to light how modern businesses have moved towards conducting their operations without boundaries. “We are also talking about an ecosystem; a boundary-less business. This is not just about the way you think about your own business, but also about how you view the entire ecosystem. It’s asking how you remove friction in that ecosystem to make it easier for you to do business, and also allow you to take advantage of the investments that others are making.”
Viewed in this light, technology offers “a fantastic opportunity” for SMEs. “The first thing that is unique about the digital world is that you get access to relatively cheap technology, whether it’s computing power, storage, bandwidth, access to devices. So even a small to medium enterprise can take advantage of a lot of this technology at very little cost.”
Public opinion has always held that automation will result in unemployment of the masses. The rise of frontier technologies like artificial intelligence has caused fears of robots taking over blue-collar jobs. However there is another view that says humans still have the upper hand given their creativity and ability to form relationships. The type of tasks that are being replaced by AI algorithms are routine, repetitive tasks that can be more effectively performed by machines – leaving people to focus on interpersonal, social, emotional skills.
Sutcliff agrees, and refers to an excerpt from the book ‘Human + Machine’ by Accenture leaders Paul Daugherty and Jim Wilson. “There are three environments where the humans are working with the machines to help machines do something and three environments where the machines are helping the humans. When we look across the spectrum of the AI, our research demonstrates that it’s actually going to create jobs. There will be jobs that are destroyed but there will be lots of news jobs also being created.”
Consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates that 40 to 45 percent of current jobs in the region could be automated by 2030, but a more detailed look into it shows that while 57 percent of individuals with a high school education or less are suspected to be negatively impacted by job automation, this figure drops by half, to 22 percent, for employees with a bachelor’s or higher degree of education.
We are at an inflection point in the market where business are saying that they now understand what works and what doesn’t
Integrating resources in some of the most crucial social sectors, including health and education, could result in not just setting an example for the rest of the world but also in the overall development of the nation and its people. “Both health and education have an underlying philosophy. We need solutions that work for 100 percent of the population. That requires a more regulatory control and thoughtfulness in how we introduce products and services to either healthcare or education,” he says of the UAE’s approach to digital transformation.
The Ministry of Education has developed the Education 2020 Strategy, which promotes the use of technology in schools with a view towards future employability. However, since these sectors have little room for mistakes, the implementation requires more time up front to make sure it fits into a coherent education strategy. “Once you get it right we believe you can have a tremendous impact on both the rate of learning for students and helping with retention and memory.”
He says that healthcare will also benefit as the sector “moves toward a more hybrid approach where care is not necessarily delivered in a hospital but also in a home environment where people manage their disease as part of their life,” he explains.
Digital transformation is going to intrude on all sectors as companies integrate their core business functionalities with advanced technological platforms. Hence, it becomes paramount for “virtual” and “actual” platforms to not just co-exist but also properly leverage one another. It is nearly impossible to understand the fully potential of the on-going digital transformations, but organisations in the UAE are slowly figuring it out.
With that comes the next step, which is to implement and incorporate it on a large scale. “We are at an inflection point in the market where business are saying that they now understand what works and what doesn’t in terms of how we combine technology. And now we are ready to do it at a much larger scale,” he says, adding that firms across the world have been discussing the implementation of digital solutions from paper proposals to actual reality.
“In the next year or two we expect to see the start of the mass adoption of some of these solutions that companies have been working on for the past couple of years.”
Which is another way of saying that the future will soon be the present that everyone will have to live in.
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