If one school of thought bears out, not everyone is set to be beneficiaries of the more turbocharged world of innovation and opportunity promised by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the convergence of the physical, digital and biological worlds.
Indeed, the hype and potential is often tempered by a more cautionary narrative which fears one man’s opportunity could be another’s job loss, as the rise of automation encroaches ever more strongly on frontline and low-skilled roles.
A cursory glance around many of our high-street retail staples bears testament to this infiltration as self-service checkouts gradually make those who traditionally manned them surplus to requirements. It’s a plight which took centre stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, with the launch of a report by Swiss bank, UBS, which cited how the Industry 4.0 will ultimately signal a polarization of the labour force as low skills continue to be automated, a trend increasingly set to spread to middle-class jobs.
For a section of the workforce, the outlook could seem very bleak, as it waits passively to be usurped by automated counterparts, but fortunately there is a broader story. Indeed, the argument which frames frontline jobs and technology as either/or rivals locked in a battle for a supremacy is overlooking the opportunities presented by the defining technologies of the digital revolution which can drive performance, job satisfaction, and the quality of customer service of those on the front line as opposed to replacing them with machines.
Data analytics is a case in point; by pioneering the way in which assets are maintained, the technology is quickly establishing its value as a means to enhance and expand the scope of roles.
It’s a situation made possible by the technology’s growing pervasiveness, which has seen the use filter down from small pockets at the very top of the businesses to enable organisation-wide broader access.
This has been fueled in part by the new breed of accessible solutions such as TIBCO Spotfire, which uses engaging dashboards displaying visually compelling data to offer an immediate snapshot of the stories that could otherwise be buried in tables of numbers and spreadsheets. The result is that for the first time, non-specialists can understand and interpret data without the usual dependency on IT or specialists to extrapolate the information, saving time while generating greater independence.
In retail, we know analytics has a big role to play in identifying customer purchasing habits, a behind-the-scenes activity which is brought to life on the shop floor with major ramifications for those at the coalface and customer-facing. Access to customer intelligence on previous purchasing habits can inform targeted promotional offers, capturing the insights in real time to react and tailor the service accordingly providing actionable insight on customer shopper behavior and store operations, empowering retail assistants to improve the in-store experience while boosting the overall performance of the store.
Equipping and empowering a section of the business, which has not always been given the tools or been privy to such information, can be a major barometer of how ingrained analytics has become within a business. Furthermore, it’s a development, which underlines the power of collaboration, which is one of the most defining trait of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Forensic intelligence combined with the human personal touch of customer service that can never be replicated by a machine reinforces a synergy and drives home the point that humans and technology on the front line need not be mutually exclusive.