Future Cities: Jobs And Social Capital

Brian Lee-Archer

If work isn’t the cornerstone of our society, then why is there so much focus on the jobs of the future and the impact of the digital economy?

Labor mobility is a characteristic of a modern thriving economy. Jobs might attract people to a community, but livability makes them stay. Bill Clinton’s famous slogan from the 1992 U.S. presidential election, “It’s the economy, stupid,” is a poignant reminder that sustainability within our communities is contingent on a level of economic activity.

Jobs and livability go hand-in-hand. Economic activity within a community underpins investment in social capital-related initiatives. Strong social capital is a stabilizer to the negative effects of economic cycles. Improving livability and economic activity can trigger a virtuous circle effect leading to sustainable communities.

On the other side of the coin, if economic activity slows and jobs disappear, investment in livability may decline and put community sustainability at risk. Communities often have limited capacity to influence the macroeconomic issues that determine labor markets and attract jobs.

However, they have a level of control over livability factors such as open space, public safety, and recreational activities.

In periods of economic slowdown, the focus on social capital-related initiatives contributes to resilience, thereby increasing capacity to influence economic activity.

The new economy is putting a spotlight on the concept of tradable and non-tradable jobs, as Enrico Moretti explains in his book, The New Geography of Jobs. A tradable job creates goods or services that can be exported to other regions—for example, knowledge or manufacturing jobs.

Non-tradable jobs are usually local jobs that support people in tradable jobs—for example, retail, health services, and education. According to Moretti, “A healthy traded sector benefits the local economy directly, as it generates well-paid jobs, and indirectly, as it creates additional jobs in the non-traded sector.”

At the macro level, attracting traditional tradable industries such as manufacturing is beyond the reach of many communities. While communities may offer incentives to attract investment, it comes with risk.

However, the new economy provides opportunities to attract or upskill to a new class of tradable jobs at a lower investment risk – the knowledge workers. Knowledge workers have higher average incomes, are mobile and well-educated, and have a life perspective beyond the community they live in. Knowledge workers create the potential to leverage existing social capital assets of the community to enable innovation, leading to new jobs with higher levels of job satisfaction.

Increasing the pool of knowledge workers within a community lifts demand for local services in the non-tradeable sector – the multiplier effect.

By virtue of their mobility, knowledge workers have the opportunity to exercise choice in where they live. Communities can leverage livability factors to retain newly upskilled workers and attract new knowledge workers.

A three-year study (2010-12) conducted by Gallup and the Knight Foundation of 26 communities across the United States, The Knight Soul of the Community, examined the factors that bond residents to their communities and the role of community attachment in an area’s economic growth and well-being.

This study revealed three dominant factors: aesthetics, openness, and social offerings.

Kick-starting a virtuous circle of growth in employment and livability is contingent upon a rich source of data and the capability to turn data into information for business insight.

Information informs community leaders in making targeted investment decisions addressing social capital factors proven to have a positive impact on tradable job prospects.

Community leaders face a unique challenge: The levers they have most control over are not necessarily the most direct in terms of creating jobs. However, the livability levers they do control can have a significant impact on creating the environmental conditions for innovation among knowledge workers.

The economic value created will empower communities to invest further in social capital initiatives.

For more on how technology drives social capital, see Smart Investments Create Smart Cities.

This article was originally published on InnovationAus.com.

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Brian Lee-Archer

About Brian Lee-Archer

Brian Lee-Archer is director of the SAP Institute for Digital Government Global (SIDG). Launched in 2015, SIDG is a global think tank that aims to create value for government by leveraging digital capability to meet the needs of citizens and consumers of government services. In collaboration with government agencies, universities and partner organizations, SIDG facilitates innovation through digital technology for deeper policy insight and improved service delivery.

How Business-Driven Analytics Make Public Transportation Smarter In Brussels

John Ward

Modern public transportation seems fueled as much by data and analytics as it is by diesel, natural gas, or electricity.

Want to know where your bus is right now and exactly when it should arrive at your stop? These days, there’s an app for that.

Using technologies such as IoT, Big Data, and advanced analytics to improve the movement of citizens across urban areas has become a hallmark of the world’s smartest cities.

Brussels is a case in point.

Traveling the epicenter of the European Union

Belgium’s capital region is served by the Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles (when speaking French) or the Maatschappij voor het Intercommunaal Vervoer te Brussel (if Flemish is your preference).

Usually referred to as STIB-MIVB, this public transportation company maintains an extensive network of over a thousand vehicles serving four metro train lines, 17 tram lines, and 50 bus lines.

“We are responsible for all the public transportation in Brussels,” says Olivier Bauden, sales director at STIB-MIVB, in a recent video. He points out that STIB-MIVB is used by around 1 million people every day. “So basically, you can say that in just more than one week, we are transporting the whole population of Belgium,” Bauden quips.

This amount of travel generates a wealth of data. Ticket sales are tallied at vending machines, sensors count passengers moving through the turnstiles, time and location are recorded as bus doors open to let on new riders.

“All that data is collected and we use it to analyze the performance of our network and to make sure we offer the best service possible to our customers,” says Rob Roemers, BI solutions manager, at STIB-MIVB.

Analyzing the flow

Roemers explains that STIB-MIVB leverages a full portfolio of analytics tools to help optimize daily operations and guide longer-term planning. “We can actually see how many people are in a specific vehicle,” Roemers says. “We know if the capacity of that vehicle is adequate for the route.”

And this data analysis can have citywide applications. “We have some very good information, for example, on where our mobility ramps are used,” Roemers adds, talking about the devices that provide improved access to persons with physical disabilities. According to Roemers, insight gained from this kind of information could lead to infrastructure improvements across the capital region.

Benefiting from real-time data streams

But while Big Data’s impact on business and urban planning may be significant, it’s often access to in-the-moment info that seems to matter the most to the average citizen.

In a Gartner press release about smart cities, research vice president Bettina Tratz-Ryan observes, “the city becomes ‘smart’ when the data is collected and governed in a way that can produce valuable real-time streams, rather than just backward-looking statistics or reports.”

Again, Brussels is a good example.

STIB-MIVB offers free, geo-enabled mobile apps that let people use their smartphones to quickly locate the nearest stop in town and to plan their journeys on the spot with real-time information.

It also makes the underlying datasets, such as timetables, stop names and locations, and line routes, available in digital format via an open data portal. STIB-MIVB encourages the riding public to create their own applications and to help foster further innovation. As STIB-MIVB sees it, “making our data available goes beyond basic data sharing. It’s a source of inspiration for all talented individuals who want to improve and build tomorrow’s solutions today.”

Internally, STIB-MIVB finds great value in the data that today’s public transportation systems generate. As Roemers observes, “Being more efficient and better at our job is exactly why we are trying to analyze as much data as possible.”

Hear more from STIB-MIVB in this video. You can also learn more about how your organization can take full advantage of embedded IoT capabilities, advanced analytics, and other innovation technologies through the cloud.

This article originally appeared on Forbes SAPVoice.

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Quayside: A Reminder That Canada Can Define The Digital Democracy

Colleen Hardwick and John Ramsell

Toronto is right to feel good about Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs choosing the city for its high-tech redevelopment of a 12-acre strip of the eastern waterfront. The Quayside project could be a watershed moment for the burgeoning global smart city movement.

In a Globe and Mail op-ed, Sidewalk CEO and chairman Daniel Doctoroff and Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt said in Toronto they’d “found a city with unequalled diversity and a remarkable spirit of openness” for their futuristic vision.

But they also implied Toronto is an ideal test bed because of what it doesn’t have. “Like other successful cities, Toronto is struggling to maintain diversity as housing prices soar, congestion worsens and cost of living skyrockets.”

For all the potential of this innovative venture, Doctoroff and Schmidt acknowledged what Quayside cannot become: a wealthy, high-tech enclave. “The eastern waterfront should be a model for using technology and data as tools to enhance personal connections and the urban environment – not to close us off to each other and from our surroundings.”

In other words, data and algorithms alone cannot be allowed to drive the project. “Sophisticated modeling techniques” and the like will have value in determining how the city takes shape, but people and their wishes must remain part of the equation. Tracking people’s habits, behaviors and movements is not the same as asking them how they feel.

In fairness, Sidewalk Labs is adamant that policymakers, city leaders and citizens will remain part of the conversation. It’s in Canada, you feel, that this integration between government and corporation for the good of citizens could actually happen.

Canada’s democracy is considered one of the strongest in the world. The country is currently an “island of stability” in a Western world reeling from the effects of distrust in political parties and desperate lashes out for change, according to the Environics Institute.

Sidewalk isn’t the first to recognize Canada as a good bet for trialing government-friendly tech projects. Code for Canada – a non-profit committed to “technology and design for the common good” – shows the Canadian appetite for greater collaboration between government innovators and the country’s tech community to pursue better digital public services.

Elsewhere, Vancouver-based PlaceSpeak is tapping into the potential for municipalities to use the internet to better involve citizens in discussions that usually only happen in sparsely attended town hall meetings.

For it to work, governments had to be open to the idea of a civic engagement platform that puts location-verified citizens in direct contact with them and each other online. And they were – municipalities across Canada have embraced the tool with zeal.

Placespeak’s new feature, SentiMap, takes it a step further by generating colour-coded maps showing a constituent’s sentiment on whatever issues are up for discussion. The in-memory computing platform takes real-time measures of citizen sentiment, pulls it up from the gutter of social media shouting matches and rants, and turns it into an exciting way to see digital democracy in action. It’s a Canadian-made glimpse of the example we can set in using the internet to rejuvenate and reinvigorate policy making, and the antithesis of what could become an algorithm-defined democracy if Quayside is not properly governed.

While such examples can be cherry-picked, it would be disingenuous to suggest Canada is currently leading the way in digital democracy. When comparing, say, an Accenture study that placed Canada 14th in the G20’s most digitally innovative countries, to world-renowned success stories like Estonia’s, it’s clear there’s still a long way to go if we are to reach our potential.

If we can get there, it would be well worth our while. Technology brings great hope, but there are challenges in making it work for everyone. What Silicon Valley is to no-holds-barred innovation, Canada is to good government. It’s this complement that could make Quayside just one of many projects that helps Canada define digital democracy for the world.

For more on technology and smart cities, see How Cities Become What We Want Them To Be.

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Colleen Hardwick

About Colleen Hardwick

Colleen Hardwick was headed for a career in urban planning when a twist of fate launched her into a 20-year career in the film industry. Circling back to her roots in 2010, Colleen began to innovate in online public participation and decision-making. The result is PlaceSpeak, the first location-based community consultation platform. Colleen has a degree in Urban Geography from UBC, is a former member of the City of Vancouver's Development Permit Board Advisory Panel, and is a member of Lambda Alpha International.

John Ramsell

About John Ramsell

John Ramsell is the head of the west region and public sector sales for SAP Canada. In this role, John works with Canada’s largest and most important companies and government organizations across a range of industries, creating road maps that lead to effective digital transformation.

Why Strategic Plans Need Multiple Futures

By Dan Wellers, Kai Goerlich, and Stephanie Overby , Kai Goerlich and Stephanie Overby

When members of Lowe’s Innovation Labs first began talking with the home improvement retailer’s senior executives about how disruptive technologies would affect the future, the presentations were well received but nothing stuck.

“We’d give a really great presentation and everyone would say, ‘Great job,’ but nothing would really happen,” says Amanda Manna, head of narratives and partnerships for the lab.

The team realized that it needed to ditch the PowerPoints and try something radical. The team’s leader, Kyle Nel, is a behavioral scientist by training. He knows people are wired to receive new information best through stories. Sharing far-future concepts through narrative, he surmised, could unlock hidden potential to drive meaningful change.

So Nel hired science fiction writers to pen the future in comic book format, with characters and a narrative arc revealed pane by pane.

The first storyline, written several years before Oculus Rift became a household name, told the tale of a couple envisioning their kitchen renovation using virtual reality headsets. The comic might have been fun and fanciful, but its intent was deadly serious. It was a vision of a future in which Lowe’s might solve one of its long-standing struggles: the approximately US$70 billion left on the table when people are unable to start a home improvement project because they can’t envision what it will look like.

When the lab presented leaders with the first comic, “it was like a light bulb went on,” says Manna. “Not only did they immediately understand the value of the concept, they were convinced that if we didn’t build it, someone else would.”

Today, Lowe’s customers in select stores can use the HoloRoom How To virtual reality tool to learn basic DIY skills in an interactive and immersive environment.

Other comics followed and were greeted with similar enthusiasm—and investment, where possible. One tells the story of robots that help customers navigate stores. That comic spawned the LoweBot, which roamed the aisles of several Lowe’s stores during a pilot program in California and is being evaluated to determine next steps.

And the comic about tools that can be 3D-printed in space? Last year, Lowe’s partnered with Made in Space, which specializes in making 3D printers that can operate in zero gravity, to install the first commercial 3D printer in the International Space Station, where it was used to make tools and parts for astronauts.

The comics are the result of sending writers out on an open-ended assignment, armed with trends, market research, and other input, to envision what home improvement planning might look like in the future or what the experience of shopping will be in 10 years. The writers come back with several potential story ideas in a given area and work collaboratively with lab team members to refine it over time.

The process of working with writers and business partners to develop the comics helps the future strategy team at Lowe’s, working under chief development officer Richard D. Maltsbarger, to inhabit that future. They can imagine how it might play out, what obstacles might surface, and what steps the company would need to take to bring that future to life.

Once the final vision hits the page, the lab team can clearly envision how to work backward to enable the innovation. Importantly, the narrative is shared not only within the company but also out in the world. It serves as a kind of “bat signal” to potential technology partners with capabilities that might be required to make it happen, says Manna. “It’s all part of our strategy for staking a claim in the future.”

Planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future.

Companies like Lowe’s are realizing that standard ways of planning for the future won’t get them where they need to go. The problem with traditional strategic planning is that the approach, which dates back to the 1950s and has remained largely unchanged since then, is based on the company’s existing mission, resources, core competencies, and competitors.

Yet the future rarely looks like the past. What’s more, digital technology is now driving change at exponential rates. Companies must be able to analyze and assess the potential impacts of the many variables at play, determine the possible futures they want to pursue, and develop the agility to pivot as conditions change along the way.

This is why planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future, rather than from the past or the present. “Every winning strategy is based on a compelling insight, but most strategic planning originates in today’s marketplace, which means the resulting plans are constrained to incremental innovation,” says Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future. “Most corporate strategists and CEOs are just inching their way to the future.” (Read more from Bob Johansen in the Thinkers story, “Fear Factor.”)

Inching forward won’t cut it anymore. Half of the S&P 500 organizations will be replaced over the next decade, according to research company Innosight. The reason? They can’t see the portfolio of possible futures, they can’t act on them, or both. Indeed, when SAP conducts future planning workshops with clients, we find that they usually struggle to look beyond current models and assumptions and lack clear ideas about how to work toward radically different futures.

Companies that want to increase their chances of long-term survival are incorporating three steps: envisioning, planning for, and executing on possible futures. And doing so all while the actual future is unfolding in expected and unexpected ways.

Those that pull it off are rewarded. A 2017 benchmarking report from the Strategic Foresight Research Network (SFRN) revealed that vigilant companies (those with the most mature processes for identifying, interpreting, and responding to factors that induce change) achieved 200% greater market capitalization growth and 33% higher profitability than the average, while the least mature companies experienced negative market-cap growth and had 44% lower profitability.

Looking Outside the Margins

“Most organizations lack sufficient capacity to detect, interpret, and act on the critically important but weak and ambiguous signals of fresh threats or new opportunities that emerge on the periphery of their usual business environment,” write George S. Day and Paul J. H. Schoemaker in their book Peripheral Vision.

But that’s exactly where effective future planning begins: examining what is happening outside the margins of day-to-day business as usual in order to peer into the future.

Business leaders who take this approach understand that despite the uncertainties of the future there are drivers of change that can be identified and studied and actions that can be taken to better prepare for—and influence—how events unfold.

That starts with developing foresight, typically a decade out. Ten years, most future planners agree, is the sweet spot. “It is far enough out that it gives you a bit more latitude to come up with a broader way to the future, allowing for disruption and innovation,” says Brian David Johnson, former chief futurist for Intel and current futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “But you can still see the light from it.”

The process involves gathering information about the factors and forces—technological, business, sociological, and industry or ecosystem trends—that are effecting change to envision a range of potential impacts.

Seeing New Worlds

Intel, for example, looks beyond its own industry boundaries to envision possible future developments in adjacent businesses in the larger ecosystem it operates in. In 2008, the Intel Labs team, led by anthropologist Genevieve Bell, determined that the introduction of flexible glass displays would open up a whole new category of foldable consumer electronic devices.

To take advantage of that advance, Intel would need to be able to make silicon small enough to fit into some imagined device of the future. By the time glass manufacturer Corning unveiled its ultra-slim, flexible glass surface for mobile devices, laptops, televisions, and other displays of the future in 2012, Intel had already created design prototypes and kicked its development into higher gear. “Because we had done the future casting, we were already imagining how people might use flexible glass to create consumer devices,” says Johnson.

Because future planning relies so heavily on the quality of the input it receives, bringing in experts can elevate the practice. They can come from inside an organization, but the most influential insight may come from the outside and span a wide range of disciplines, says Steve Brown, a futurist, consultant, and CEO of BaldFuturist.com who worked for Intel Labs from 2007 to 2016.

Companies may look to sociologists or behaviorists who have insight into the needs and wants of people and how that influences their actions. Some organizations bring in an applied futurist, skilled at scanning many different forces and factors likely to coalesce in important ways (see Do You Need a Futurist?).

Do You Need a Futurist?

Most organizations need an outsider to help envision their future. Futurists are good at looking beyond the big picture to the biggest picture.

Business leaders who want to be better prepared for an uncertain and disruptive future will build future planning as a strategic capability into their organizations and create an organizational culture that embraces the approach. But working with credible futurists, at least in the beginning, can jump-start the process.

“The present can be so noisy and business leaders are so close to it that it’s helpful to provide a fresh outside-in point of view,” says veteran futurist Bob Johansen.

To put it simply, futurists like Johansen are good at connecting dots—lots of them. They look beyond the boundaries of a single company or even an industry, incorporating into their work social science, technical research, cultural movements, economic data, trends, and the input of other experts.

They can also factor in the cultural history of the specific company with whom they’re working, says Brian David Johnson, futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “These large corporations have processes and procedures in place—typically for good reasons,” Johnson explains. “But all of those reasons have everything to do with the past and nothing to do with the future. Looking at that is important so you can understand the inertia that you need to overcome.”

One thing the best futurists will say they can’t do: predict the future. That’s not the point. “The future punishes certainty,” Johansen says, “but it rewards clarity.” The methods futurists employ are designed to trigger discussions and considerations of possibilities corporate leaders might not otherwise consider.

You don’t even necessarily have to buy into all the foresight that results, says Johansen. Many leaders don’t. “Every forecast is debatable,” Johansen says. “Foresight is a way to provoke insight, even if you don’t believe it. The value is in letting yourself be provoked.”

External expert input serves several purposes. It brings everyone up to a common level of knowledge. It can stimulate and shift the thinking of participants by introducing them to new information or ideas. And it can challenge the status quo by illustrating how people and organizations in different sectors are harnessing emerging trends.

The goal is not to come up with one definitive future but multiple possibilities—positive and negative—along with a list of the likely obstacles or accelerants that could surface on the road ahead. The result: increased clarity—rather than certainty—in the face of the unknown that enables business decision makers to execute and refine business plans and strategy over time.

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

Coming up with potential trends is an important first step in futuring, but even more critical is figuring out what steps need to be taken along the way: eight years from now, four years from now, two years from now, and now. Considerations include technologies to develop, infrastructure to deploy, talent to hire, partnerships to forge, and acquisitions to make. Without this vital step, says Brown, everybody goes back to their day jobs and the new thinking generated by future planning is wasted. To work, the future steps must be tangible, concrete, and actionable.

Organizations must build a roadmap for the desired future state that anticipates both developments and detours, complete with signals that will let them know if they’re headed in the right direction. Brown works with corporate leaders to set indicator flags to look out for on the way to the anticipated future. “If we see these flagged events occurring in the ecosystem, they help to confirm the strength of our hypothesis that a particular imagined future is likely to occur,” he explains.

For example, one of Brown’s clients envisioned two potential futures: one in which gestural interfaces took hold and another in which voice control dominated. The team set a flag to look out for early examples of the interfaces that emerged in areas such as home appliances and automobiles. “Once you saw not just Amazon Echo but also Google Home and other copycat speakers, it would increase your confidence that you were moving more towards a voice-first era rather than a gesture-first era,” Brown says. “It doesn’t mean that gesture won’t happen, but it’s less likely to be the predominant modality for communication.”

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

Once organizations have a vision for the future, making it a reality requires testing ideas in the marketplace and then scaling them across the enterprise. “There’s a huge change piece involved,”
says Frank Diana, futurist and global consultant with Tata Consultancy Services, “and that’s the place where most
businesses will fall down.”

Many large firms have forgotten what it’s like to experiment in several new markets on a small scale to determine what will stick and what won’t, says René Rohrbeck, professor of strategy at the Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences. Companies must be able to fail quickly, bring the lessons learned back in, adapt, and try again.

Lowe’s increases its chances of success by creating master narratives across a number of different areas at once, such as robotics, mixed-reality tools, on-demand manufacturing, sustainability, and startup acceleration. The lab maps components of each by expected timelines: short, medium, and long term. “From there, we’ll try to build as many of them as quickly as we can,” says Manna. “And we’re always looking for that next suite of things that we should be working on.” Along the way certain innovations, like the HoloRoom How-To, become developed enough to integrate into the larger business as part of the core strategy.

One way Lowe’s accelerates the process of deciding what is ready to scale is by being open about its nascent plans with the world. “In the past, Lowe’s would never talk about projects that weren’t at scale,” says Manna. Now the company is sharing its future plans with the media and, as a result, attracting partners that can jump-start their realization.

Seeing a Lowe’s comic about employee exoskeletons, for example, led Virginia Tech engineering professor Alan Asbeck to the retailer. He helped develop a prototype for a three-month pilot with stock employees at a Christiansburg, Virginia, store.

The high-tech suit makes it easier to move heavy objects. Employees trying out the suits are also fitted with an EEG headset that the lab incorporates into all its pilots to gauge unstated, subconscious reactions. That direct feedback on the user experience helps the company refine its innovations over time.

Make the Future Part of the Culture

Regardless of whether all the elements of its master narratives come to pass, Lowe’s has already accomplished something important: It has embedded future thinking into the culture of the company.

Companies like Lowe’s constantly scan the environment for meaningful economic, technology, and cultural changes that could impact its future assessments and plans. “They can regularly draw on future planning to answer challenges,” says Rohrbeck. “This intensive, ongoing, agile strategizing is only possible because they’ve done their homework up front and they keep it updated.”

It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the future, but companies can help to shape it, says Manna of Lowe’s. “It’s really about painting a picture of a preferred future state that we can try to achieve while being flexible and capable of change as we learn things along the way.” D!


About the Authors

Dan Wellers is Global Lead, Digital Futures, at SAP.

Kai Goerlich is Chief Futurist at SAP’s Innovation Center Network.

Stephanie Overby is a Boston-based business and technology journalist.


Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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Dan Wellers

About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation. Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

About Stephanie Overby

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Human Is The Next Big Thing

Traci Maddox

One of my favorite movies of 2016 was Hidden Figures. The main character, Katherine Johnson, and her team of colleagues had an interesting job title: Computer. Here’s what Katherine said about her job: “On any given day, I analyze the binomial levels of air displacement, friction, and velocity. And compute over 10 thousand calculations by cosine, square root, and lately analytic geometry. By hand.”

That was the 1960s. It was amazing work, but work that took hours to complete – and something an in-memory computer could do in a fraction of a second today.

Just as in-memory computing transformed calculating by hand (and made jobs like Katherine’s much easier), digital technologies are transforming the way we work today – and making our day-to-day activities more efficient.

What’s the real impact of technology in today’s workplace?

We are surrounded by technology, both at home and at work. Machine learning and robotics are making their way into everyday life and are affecting the way we expect to engage with technology at work. That has a big impact on organizations: If a machine can do a job safely and more efficiently, a company, nonprofit, or government – and its employees – will benefit. Digital technologies are becoming increasingly more feasible, affordable, and desirable. The challenge for organizations now is effectively merging human talent and digital business to harness new capabilities.

How will jobs change?

What does this mean for humans in the workplace? In a previous blog, Kerry Brown showed that as enterprises continue to learn, human/machine collaboration increases. People will direct technology and hand over work that can be done more efficiently by machine. Does that mean people will go away? No – but they will need to leverage different skills than they have today.

Although we don’t know exactly how jobs will change, one thing is for sure: Becoming more digitally proficient will help every employee stay relevant (and prepare them to move forward in their careers). Today’s workforce demographic complicates how people embrace technology – with up to five generations in the workforce, there is a wide variety in digital fluency (i.e., the ability to understand which technology is available and what tools will best achieve desired outcomes).

What is digital fluency and how can organizations embrace it?

Digital fluency is the combination of several capabilities related to technology:

  • Foundation skills: The ability to use technology tools that enhance your productivity and effectiveness
  • Information skills: The ability to research and develop your own perspective on topics using technology
  • Collaboration skills: The ability to share knowledge and collaborate with others using technology
  • Transformation skills: The ability to assess your own skills and take action toward building your digital fluency

No matter how proficient you are today, you can continue to build your digital IQ by building new habits and skills. This is something that both the organization and employee will have to own to be successful.

So, what skills are needed?

In a Technical University of Munich study released in July 2017, 64% of respondents said they do not have the skills necessary for digital transformation.

Today's workplace reality

These skills will be applied not only to the jobs of today, but also to the top jobs of the future, which haven’t been imagined yet! A recent article in Fast Company mentions a few, which include Digital Death Manager, Corporate Disorganizer, and 3D Printing Handyman.

And today’s skills will be used differently in 2025, as reported by another Fast Company article:

  • Tech skills, especially analytical skills, will increase in importance. Demand for software developers, market analysts, and computer analysts will increase significantly between now and 2025.
  • Retail and sales skills, or any job related to soft skills that are hard for computers to learn, will continue to grow. Customer service representatives, marketing specialists, and sales reps must continue to collaborate and understand how to use social media effectively to communicate worldwide.
  • Lifelong learning will be necessary to keep up with the changes in technology and adapt to our fast-moving lives. Teachers and trainers will continue to be hot jobs in the future, but the style of teaching will change to adapt to a “sound bite” world.
  • Contract workers who understand how businesses and projects work will thrive in the “gig economy.” Management analysts and auditors will continue to be in high demand.

What’s next?

How do companies address a shortage of digital skills and build digital fluency? Here are some steps you can take to increase your digital fluency – and that of your organization:

  • Assess where you are today. Either personally or organizationally, knowing what skills you have is the first step toward identifying where you need to go.
  • Identify one of each of the skill sets to focus on. What foundational skills do you or your organization need? How can you promote collaboration? What thought leadership can your team share – and how can they connect with the right information to stay relevant?
  • Start practicing! Choose just one thing – and use that technology every day for a month. Use it within your organization so others can practice too.

And up next for this blog series – a look at the workplace of the future!

The computer made its debut in Hidden Figures. Did it replace jobs? Yes, for some of the computer team. But members of that team did not leave quietly and continue manual calculations elsewhere. They learned how to use that new mainframe computer and became programmers. I believe humans will always be the next big thing.

If we want to retain humanity’s value in an increasingly automated world, we need to start recognizing and nurturing Human Skills for the Digital Future.

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Traci Maddox

About Traci Maddox

Traci Maddox is the Director of the North America Customer Transformation Office at SAP, where she is elevating customer success through innovation and digital transformation. Traci is also part of the Digital Workforce Taskforce, a team of SAP leaders whose mission is to help companies succeed by understanding and addressing workforce implications of digital technology.