Analytics, IoT, A.I. now more strategically important than cloud: WEF report

Analytics, IoT, A.I. now more strategically important than cloud: WEF report

The World Economic Forum has unveiled a new report on the Future of Jobs over the next five years, as Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies such as AI, robotics, automation, the Internet of Things (IoT), and more, sweep across the global economy.

The report predicts a net increase of nearly 60 million jobs worldwide by 2022.

Internet of Business has published a separate analysis on the future skills and employment challenges that emerge from that report. But which new technologies are being adopted in the run-up to 2022, and why?

In the US, cloud computing is now regarded as less strategically important by senior executives than analytics, the IoT, and machine learning, says the report.

According to the WEF, big data analytics is being adopted by 89 percent of US enterprises. The IoT is cited by 80 percent of respondents to the survey, which sought the opinions of CEOs, strategic executives, and HR leaders from over 300 enterprises across every sector, in 20 countries.

Meanwhile, app- and Web-enabled markets are cited by 76 percent of US respondents, with machine learning in fourth place (cited by 75 percent) and cloud computing in fifth (71 percent).

Augmenting the future

There are other surprising findings from the US market. Augmented and virtual reality are being adopted by more enterprises than encryption technologies (66 percent and 60 percent, respectively), with wearable electronics (56 percent), blockchain (52 percent), and 3D printing (47 percent) not far behind.

Forty-four percent of US enterprises are investing in stationary (industrial) robots and 38 percent in non-humanoid land robots. Humanoid robots, meanwhile, are cited by one-quarter of US enterprises: a surprisingly high figure, given their limited utility at present.

However, this is significantly more organisations than are investing in aerial and marine drones (22 percent), suggesting that the drone market, while booming in amateur and consumer circles, remains unproven in the enterprise – hampered, no doubt, by restrictive regulations in most Western economies.

Autonomous transport is cited as a strategic priority by 43 percent of US respondents, just above quantum computing (41 percent). A fascinating counterpoint in the findings, which suggests that the potential for autonomous vehicles may have been overstated, while quantum computing has been underestimated as a strategic issue for the enterprise.

The jobs picture

In the US, 84 percent of organisations say it is “likely” that they will automate increasing amounts of work over the next five years, with just four percent saying it is unlikely. However, 84 percent of enterprises also say that they will hire new permanent staff with relevant technology skills, while 66 percent will bring in temporary workers to plug the skills gap.

Eighty-one percent of US organisations will invest in retraining their existing workforces – three percent fewer than those bringing onboard new staff. Strategic redundancies of workers who lack new technology skills are “likely” in 46 percent of US organisations.

Talent availability is the prime factor in determining job location in every sector of the US economy, except energy and utilities, where labour cost is the dominant issue, says the WEF.

The UK angle

A similar picture emerges in the UK, with some intriguing differences. An even stronger analytical focus is reported by leaders of UK enterprises, with 91 percent citing big data analytics as the key technology for their businesses.

The IoT is seen as marginally less important than in the US, cited by 79 percent of organisations – behind app and Web-enabled markets and machine learning (both on 80 percent). Cloud computing is in fifth place again, on 72 percent.

In UK enterprises, augmented and virtual reality (66 percent) are again seen as more important than encryption (61 percent), while there is greater support for autonomous transport than in the US, cited by 49 percent of UK decision-makers.

There is also more widespread support for robotics, with 46 percent investing in stationary robots, 43 percent in land-based robots, and 26 percent in humanoid machines. That said, aerial and underwater robots – drones – are investment hotspots for just 23 percent of enterprises, says the report.

Last week, a Westminster eForum conference in London explored the policy challenges facing drone uptake in the UK. At that event, Elaine Whyte, leader of the UK drones team at PwC, said that drones could give a £42 billion GDP boost to the UK economy by 2030, and create 628,000 new jobs. But to get to that point, the industry needs to build much greater trust, she said.

However, the employment picture is significantly different in the UK, according to the WEF. Eighty-six percent of enterprises are looking to hire new permanent staff with technology expertise, and 84 percent intend to automate work. However, significantly fewer organisations plan to retrain their existing employees (75 percent) while 50 percent say it is likely that there will be strategic redundancies.

In China, the technology adoption pattern is broadly similar to the US and UK, but the employment picture is even more focused on automation (86 percent of enterprises) and new permanent hires (86 percent). Nearly 80 percent of Chinese enterprises plan to retrain existing staff, while strategic redundancies are likely in 47 percent of organisations.

Plus: China to receive massive AI jobs boost, says PwC

In related news, professional services giant PwC has published new research at the World Economic Forum this week predicting that AI, robotics, and automation will add 93 million jobs to the Chinese economy in the longer term – by 2037.

This represents a 12 percent net boost to the economy.

While recent PwC analysis has suggested that the long-term employment impact of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies will be neutral in established economies such as the UK, China will benefit from its much larger population, central investment, and comparative lack of legacy infrastructure.

Services in particular will thrive on the back of the new technologies, says the report.

Internet of Business says

The WEF report looks at a number of other economies, both developed and emerging. Overall, it demonstrates that while technology adoption may follow predictable paths globally – albeit with some surprises – the real economic differentiators over the next few years may come down to retraining, education, and skills.

While the fast-expanding China, for example, is highly focused on automation, it is also more focused on re-skilling its workforce for the future: a lesson for the UK, perhaps, which the WEF suggests is more likely to let staff go, or leave them to fend for themselves.

Chris Middleton
Chris Middleton is former editor of Internet of Business, and now a key contributor to the title. He specialises in robotics, AI, the IoT, blockchain, and technology strategy. He is also former editor of Computing, Computer Business Review, and Professional Outsourcing, among others, and is a contributing editor to Diginomica, Computing, and Hack & Craft News. Over the years, he has also written for Computer Weekly, The Guardian, The Times, PC World, I-CIO, V3, The Inquirer, and Blockchain News, among many others. He is an acknowledged robotics expert who has appeared on BBC TV and radio, ITN, and Talk Radio, and is probably the only tech journalist in the UK to own a number of humanoid robots, which he hires out to events, exhibitions, universities, and schools. Chris has also chaired conferences on robotics, AI, IoT investment, digital marketing, blockchain, and space technologies, and has spoken at numerous other events.