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AI will fuel the next wave of digital transformation in Asia

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From the recently-wrapped Milken Institute Asia Summit in Singapore, president of Asia and corporate vice president at Microsoft, Ralph Haupter, spoke to Bloomberg Markets: Asia on how Artificial Intelligence will continue to disrupt the technology space and drive growth on the continent.

As it stands, an increasing number of reports are showing the importance of AI on growth on a global scale:

  • AI could contribute an additional $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030 (PwC)
  • The technology represents a potential impact on GDP of 26.1 percent in China (PwC)
  • 28 percent of businesses are already realizing tangible returns on their AI implementation (AI Business)

“We need to understand that AI is the next accelerator for digital transformational companies,” explained Haupter. “We did a study here in Asia and it turns out that companies really think AI will drive double on innovation and double on productivity. That’s pretty impactful.”

The study referenced by Haupter was released earlier this year, showing that AI will accelerate the rate of innovation and employee productivity improvements to nearly double in Asia Pacific by 2021. Furthermore, only 41 percent of organizations in the region have embarked on the AI journey.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Haupter cited one success story: Narayana Health in India, which uses AI visual recognition with its X-Rays. “The quality is better, the cost is down, scale is higher — that’s what technology is about. It makes me excited.”

[Learn more about Narayana’s digital transformation]

The urgency of re-skilling

Of course, a significant touchpoint when discussing the important and rise of AI on growth, is the prioritization of reskilling workers.

A recent IBM Institute for Business Value study found that “as many as 120 million workers in the world’s 12 largest economies may need to be retrained or reskilled over the next three years as a result of the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.”

In his interview, Haupter is quick to point out that AI “is something that is augmenting us as human beings, and not replacing us,” emphasizing that reskilling is a clear goal on the agenda.

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The role of project management in digital transformation

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Digital transformation is changing not just how organizations engage with customers, but it’s having a profound effect on every aspect of operations.

It’s not hard to imagine such a deep impact when, according to IDC, direct digital transformation investment spending will approach $7.4 trillion between 2020 and 2023.

One area of business where organizations will see change? Project management. 

For TechRadar, tech and business journalist Jay T. Ripton put together a great list of five ways DX is changing the role of project management:

1) Asynchronous communication

Communication is a key component of the modern digital approach. Yesterday’s meetings and emails have morphed into today’s collaboration tools like Slack, Chanty, Hive, Google Hangouts, and Cisco Spark. As a result, team communication is quicke, on-the-go, and in real-time. 

2) Hands-off management

With the aforementioned changes in the very ways we communicate with colleagues, combined with agile project management, we’re in a “new era of self-guided, self-organizing” project management.

One example outlined is at French company Digicoop.io, who developed work management platform Kantree. They transitioned the role of project managers to be more akin to facilitators.

“We chose not to have managers, but coordinators who make sure that what we decide together gets done,” explained the company recently. “It’s not a full-time role, rather a temporary assignment. The coordinator takes on projects that are ‘up their alley’ and correspond to their skills, so that we can collectively tap into each person’s strength.”

3) Focus on results

Thanks to a new generation of project management tools born out of the digital age, everything from tracking deliverables to setting goals to time management has become easier, and to a degree, more automated.

Digital transformation is allowing project managers to take a step back and look at the bigger picture thinking and strategic planning. Basically, PMs can do more with less. 

4) Analytics at the forefront

Digital workflows have made it simple to track and quantify almost every task assigned to teams. This means more data, and, of course, better streamlining and tracking. 

With artificial and business intelligence integrated into software, project managers can get creative with this data, finding new ways to meet KPIs.

5) The agile workforce

Digital project management tools strike again. These, alongside videoconferencing and the resulting shift of work expectations have meant a dramatic increase in remote work. 

Once looked down upon, digital tools have made remote work thrive — and limited only by company culture. “The role of the project manager has shifted more toward being a ‘mother hen,’” Ripton explains, “and less about hard-nosed deliverables and managing employees.”

Sure, project managers at digitally-native companies have already witnessed these trends and changes — or they have been ingrained from the start. But for organizations currently undergoing digital transformation, it’s a unique change for an essential role. 

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Calgary’s STEM foundation crucial to driving Alberta’s economy forward

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Alberta companies are expected to spend as much as $18.4 billion on digital transformation by 2022 across all sectors, and talent is the most sought after component of Calgary’s economic strategy.

Despite challenges in Alberta’s energy sector, its foundation of technical expertise and workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) will be an asset.

“I’m confident in saying that we have one of the strongest STEM-technical workforces in North America,” says Jeanette Sutherland, director of EDGE UP/ Workforce & Productivity at Calgary Economic Development“Many of the in-demand skills shifted to more of a demand for digital competencies to adapt to the needs of the new economy,” she explains.

According to CED, high-tech employment grew by 60 percent in Calgary between 2012 and 2017, and it isn’t stopping anytime soon. The greatest opportunity for job growth is in roles supporting digital transformation in a variety of sectors — including energy, says Sutherland.

Over the past four years, the city has seen a development of “emerging clusters” from blockchain, fintech, agritech, automation, autonomous systems, AR/VR, digital media and animation, clean technologies, biotech, advanced manufacturing and robotics, AI and machine learning, life sciences, and health technologies.

This growth has led to a demand in roles ranging from software developers and data analysts, to IT project managers, cyber security professionals and UI/UX designers. 

“It appears that industry is relying on more skilled data analysts and data scientists to support a data-driven economy,” says Sutherland. “Big-data jobs are found across all sectors, from health care to finance, to trade, AI and machine learning.”

A strong, STEM-skilled workforce means that for in-demand positions, minimal reskilling is needed — think short training programs — to transition to open opportunities. 

Bonus? According to Sutherland, the amount of high-tech training completions in Calgary has grown by almost 300 percent in the past two years. Various local training programs can help individuals reskill for these new in-demand digital positions.

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Why successful digital transformation puts people first

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When we think of digital transformation, technologies like AI or IoT immediately come to mind.

In practice, however, as organizations continue to realize that digital transformation is necessary — and that it isn’t too late to start — it’s people that need to be at the center of the journey. 

For DevOps.com, Margaret Dawson detailed six human factors that, when addressed during the process, work to the benefit of digital transformation (DX):

1) Shifting the organizational culture: For DX to work, organizations need complete buy-in from everyone involved. The result is an empowered workforce across the organization, all contributing to decision-making.

People need to connect to the change and feel they can have an impact,” explains Dawson.

2) Understanding the destination: Once buy-in takes places, an understanding of (and agreement with) the digital transformation vision is needed across the board. 

Simply put, when you start, make sure the end is in mind. 

Dawson cites research from Gartner showing that 50 percent of organizations “have no digital transformation metric or way to measure progress for digital transformation.” Clear metrics of success make the DX journey measurable. 

3) De-silo your teams: Collaboration and digital transformation go hand in hand. When teams remain within their silos, the necessary data, analytics, and processes can’t seamlessly flow.

Laddering back up to the previous two points, “without a culture of trust and a shared agreement on the end goal from across the organization, you won’t be able to break down these silos,” Dawson explains. 

4) Investing in reskilling: You have the buy-in. You have the trust and collaborative environment. But what about the technology that keeps changing and advancing?

Skill gaps are a challenge throughout the business and IT worlds, but what if instead of replacing the loyal talent who fit into — and believe in — the culture and vision that has been created, you invest in reskilling?  

5) Giving UX design a front seat: When User Experience (UX) design goes bad, costs can soar, as The UX School found out

By starting with the user,” writes Dawson, “projects are more likely to give users the feeling they are interfacing with a human being rather than a digital thing—and ultimately, will succeed because of it.” 

Case in point: Ikea’s augmented reality app lets you see your home with a new couch or dresser…but doesn’t not link you to an e-commerce option.

6) Don’t rely on digital-only connections: When was the last time you had a face-to-face meeting instead of a phone or Skype or some variety of digital communication? 

When a major project such as digital transformation is underway, trust in leadership is incredibly important. Face-time — talking to, and shaking the hands of, employees, partners, customers, and users — builds this trust. 

When it comes to digital transformation, despite plenty of swings, many efforts end up missing the mark. It’s up to organizational leadership to empower and enable their employees, giving them the tools and environment they need to see DX to success.

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