In the 6 January edition of the Australian Financial Review ANZ Bank CEO Mike Smith described the effects of digitisation as being “as significant as the changes imposed by the industrial revolution”.

This comment is supported by a deep and diverse data set and important research from organisations such as McKinsey & Company and we have previously written about the Business Council of Australia’s discussion paper from last year. 

In the era of “big data” there are few areas of our lives which are not impacted by the use of technology.  Huge amounts of information are being captured and digitised – everything from who we socialise with and where (think Facebook, Instagram, etc.), how many steps we take each day (captured on iPhone, Fitbits, etc.), our financial activities – the list could go on and on.  Smith adds in a recent BlueNotes post “In the business world, there are many who still underestimate the impact of technological change.”

The effects of digitisation in the workplace are already profound and irreversible.  All major sectors of the economy are now dominated by the use of technology or subject to quick penetration by disruptive competitors who are able to leverage technology.  The effects on today’s workforce will be dramatic – the McKinsey Global Institute sees half the world’s current jobs disappearing by 2030 due to a range of disruptive technologies.  Two billion jobs are predicted to disappear to be replaced by jobs that haven’t been created yet, or to be performed by a machine or IT capability.  For example, driverless transport is predicted to transform the transport and personal services industries, and automation of knowledge and work processes will drastically reduce the level of manual work required.  In short, the world of 2030 will be as different to today’s world as a world without computers, mobile telephones, and even more basic industrial machinery seems to us today.

Whilst the threats are obvious, there is huge opportunity in this shift for businesses and workers that are willing to move up the value chain and take advantage of more efficient or totally new ways of working.  Many companies are already embracing this shift – adopting technology early and moving first to build the productivity and competitive advantages into their business.  These same companies will be the first to experience the resulting changes in their industrial relations and employment environments – shifts, for example, in the skills set required of workers, the bargaining environment, the ideal mix of employment types, etc.  Now more than ever, it is important to think about the human resources needs of a business in the medium to long term, which will be integral to success whatever the state of technological advancement.