Aussie Employers Playing Catch Up with Employees

More than seven in ten executives in Australia say their employees are more digitally mature than the organizations they work for and are effectively waiting for their employers to catch up.

It is one of the findings from Accenture's recent Technology Vision report released this month, which interviewed 6,672 executives around the world and with a significant sample in Australia.

In the research, 72 percent of Australian executives said their workforces were savvier than the organizations, a result which is corroborated by findings on the lack of penetration for technologies such as artificial intelligence in Australia.

While 20 percent of Australian organizations are investing in AI, Harshu Deshpande, managing director at Accenture said that they are nowhere near the cutting edge in global terms. It reflects the gap between employee expectations and organizational initiatives, he added.

“Executives say ‘yes we are doing AI,' but they're not really pushing the boundaries of what they use AI for," said Deshpande.

“Australia seems much more focused around data analytics, doing things like machine learning algorithms on top of existing data sets and not really pushing the boundaries of AI.”

Human Plus Generation

The report identified a key workplace trend called “human+" and said organizations need to change their workplace or risk “hindering” the workforce.

The human+ workforce is empowered by their core skillsets and knowledge plus a new and growing set of capabilities made possible through technology.

"With every company making major investments in technology, a renewed focus on the workforce will decide the winners from the losers in the post-digital age," the Accenture report said.

“Across industries, it’s the workforce that will bring the promise of those investments to life,” the report continued.

The report gave several international examples of this human+ trend already in action. At telco Swisscom, for example, an AI-based solution called “Ask the Brain” identifies relevant experts to respond to particular challenges from among the company’s 21,000 strong workforce.

Using AI, more than half of the relevant questions were answered within less than two hours, cutting across the siloed teams on the premise that someone and somewhere at the company is the right person to answer the question.

Other examples show how AIs and robots can work alongside humans. Oil and gas drillers at resources company Conoco use a data visualization tool based on a gaming engine to troubleshoot malfunctions several kilometers underground and in real time.

In China, e-commerce company JD is offering three-month training courses for delivery drone pilots, a job that did not exist until very recently.

“As companies continue to innovate and push into new areas of the market, they will necessarily create new jobs and new roles immersed in technology,” the report says.

“Not only is every job today becoming a human+ role, but every new role that is created in the future will be human+ from the start. The human+ worker will be the pathway to the next big wave of innovation.”

HR: AI’s Biggest Use Case

The report also notes the impact of AI in the human resources area, saying it presents the most significant use case for the technology.

“The way that people are hiring into the workforce is changing,” said Deshpande.

The Accenture research found that 44 percent of Australian executives believed the HR area of their organization would regularly be using AI functions within the next two years.

Currently, recruitment in Australia is heavily based around the traditional CV sent by candidates, who are then assessed on their experience and not on an understanding of their future potential.

Some global companies, such as Unilever, are using tools to understand people’s propensity to learn, while another focus of future recruitment will be the ability to assimilate new ideas and knowledge.

AI will have a significant role in this, offering a series of exercises or games which will effectively test candidates on their suitability for roles not just in the present, but also the future.

AI saw Unilever cut down the average time for hiring a candidate from four months to four weeks. More importantly, the innovation drove a much higher level of diversity in the workforce across all demographics. It also increased the number of universities represented across new Unilever hires from 840 to 2,600.