As reports, articles, podcasts, and videos on the Web have all show, automation, the rise of robots, and the future of work has been a major preoccupation of a lot of folks for the past couple of years. As we hit Christmas and rocket towards the New Year it’s traditional for firms like ours to pontificate (or at least self-consciously ruminate) on the coming year. I’m not quite doing that here, but I think we can make some comments on what we anticipate for the next few years.
Looking big picture, automation will absolutely be huge, and increasingly so as we move forward over the next few years. From basic automation of digital tasks to the ecosystem of algorithms that will increasingly dominate your access to information and digital services to the robot-encased AI that learns its way through its work, automation and machine autonomy will only become more embedded in daily life and more indispensable. So yes, expect it to be huge in the coming years.
On the micro level, and talking just about our firm, the coming year will be one in which we specifically work on taking the greatest advantage of machines and automation to improve productivity and scale beyond our human laborers – er, associates. While we’ve dabbled in the past with automation in the past, it was always in very minor ways and with a very tentative hand. Based on this past year’s work around the world, however, and with global network of experts that is more collaborative than ever, we are really looking to automation to evolve the firm.
At the operational level, what does a “virtual micro transnational” firm look for in automation solutions? Everything from streamlining annoying administrative tasks to adding digital assistants to automating basic research tasks. In a process that is mimicked in organizations across the world, it all stems from conversations about where our key strengths and value spring, and identifying the functions that can and should be automated in order to allow individuals to do more of what they really should be doing.
Part of this effort for 2016 is driven by our current operational context but, being a firm full of trained futurists, part of it is absolutely informed by long-running discussions (and musings) on the future of work and entrepreneurship. It surprises few today to say that it has never been easier to start and run a new business. But looking forward, we have long contemplated the potential in the not-so-distant future for entrepreneurs to quickly and cheaply erect truly impressive organizations on shoe-string budgets thanks in large part to machines and AI. Watching the rapid evolution today of digital assistants, connected services, and basic autonomous functions it is increasingly easy to picture how entrepreneurs of any age will be able to piece together digital workforces and infrastructure that will not only take direction but also provide guidance and analysis to improve decision making and basic operations.
Looking forward we are quite confident that digitally staffed and augmented business will become a norm that further expands the pool of entrepreneurs across the planet, increasingly competitive with much larger and more traditional firms. More firms, fewer employees. How’s that for a labor forecast? Is it guaranteed that machines will improve humanity’s lot? No, but the potentially is most certainly their for us to use them to greatly expand the opportunity for people everywhere to build the kind of organizations and organized solutions they need for their own situations. In this, it is as much about vision as it is about foresight.