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Tapping technology for future of work in Kenya

robot
A robot developed by Taiwan engineers moving chess pieces on a board against an opponent at the 2017 Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 8, 2017. AFP PHOTO  

Technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR) have been a hot topic for both businesses and governments for some time now.

Their disruptive potential is no longer subject to debate, with leaders now focused on capturing the opportunities that these technologies present.

In this article, we will look at three distinct areas where leadership can take steps to ensure that the organisation is capitalising on the advantages of innovative technologies: the workspace, the work force, and the work culture. The International Data Corporation (IDC) includes these three concepts under the conceptual umbrella of "Future of Work".

The IDC predicts that, by 2021, 60 percent of G2000 companies will have adopted a future workspace model — a flexible, intelligent, collaborative virtual or physical work environment. Kenya-based M-Post, for example, has designed a virtual post office box using direct delivery guided by GPS. Other collaboration-focused technologies like this will reduce the need for physical space.

Forward-looking organisations will enable remote working through the utilisation of cloud-based services, while automation will help them reduce their physical footprint.

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The use of cloud-based services will not be limited to collaboration tools but will span core business and operational applications such as human capital management, customer relationship management, and supply chain management.

These applications will be among the key support elements of strategies that focus on improved productivity and enhanced customer experience (CX).

Augment your work force — use technology to net efficiency and productivity gains. The proliferation of innovative technologies will undoubtedly impact the profile of an organisation's workforce. According to the World Economic Forum, 52 per cent of work activities in Kenya are susceptible to automation. This is moderated by comparatively low labour costs and offset by new job creation.

Leaders will increasingly advocate the use of AI-enabled digital assistants to supplement manual labour, relieving workers of responsibility for mundane, repetitive tasks, and thus enabling them to focus on core activities.

Given the importance of agriculture in Kenya, the industry needs to find more innovative ways of optimising food production.

Thanks to the increased capabilities of mobile phones and availability of the Internet, farmers can access a variety of AI-driven solutions like their counterparts in Europe and the US.

For example, when it comes to disease identification, a farmer might simply scan the leaves of infected crops with a phone camera and then use an app to identify what it is and the likely treatment.

Companies can leverage AI to determine learning paths and ensure improvements in employee experience and retention.

Build a borderless work culture. As the work paradigm evolves and brings with it new talent requirements, traditional talent sourcing models will no longer suffice for forward-looking companies.

First, companies will increasingly leverage cloud-based sourcing platforms and online communities to ensure they have access to the widest pool of talent.

They will utilise digital assistants to reduce the man-hours required to process applications and adaptive-intelligence platforms to improve the quality of interview-ready candidates.

These changes will be done to make hiring a data-driven decision and to reduce friction throughout the process — improving the experience for the HR team and candidate alike.

Research shows that only 17 per cent of students pursuing degrees in science and technology subjects in Kenya are women. The potential to invest in human capital is paramount to ensure the country is positioned to embrace technology and all its associated benefits.

The 2017 Kenya Job Market Report shows that 5.2 million Kenyans capable of being economically active are either unemployed or underemployed. Technology can therefore become a key enabler in this regard

Companies will start to utilise talent external to the organisation's core workforce more, leveraging atypical working arrangements such as microwork to supplement their permanent workforce. A micro-worker is someone who performs a small task as part of a much broader project.

Samasource in Kenya, for example, utilises over 1,000 semi-skilled people to teach self-driving cars how to recognise objects. In doing so, the company has created a task-orientated role that is both virtual and borderless, granting them access to a global talent pool.

Leaders that recognise where innovation can have the greatest impact on their workplace — not only in terms of where and how work is done, but also in terms of forward-thinking goals — will stand to benefit most from the disruptive power of technology.

Farouk is Regional Senior Director - East and West Africa Applications Sales Leader at Oracle.

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