Winning in the Fourth Industrial Revolution is easier than you think

Launch of A*star’s model factory initiative at the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre from 2018. Low-skilled and repetitive jobs are at risk of being replaced by AI and robotics. However, not all is lost. The key to remaining competitive is to ensure that re-skilling of the existing workforce takes place, and that future generations are equipped with the right skillsets to succeed in the new era.
MAY 24, 2019 - 6:27 PM

Did you know that the shift towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution is already well underway?

Questions around how Big Data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) will impact economies continue to be top of mind for business leaders globally, and ASEAN is no exception.

Indeed, low-skilled and repetitive jobs are at risk of being replaced by AI and robotics. However, not all is lost. The key to remaining competitive is to ensure that re-skilling of the existing workforce takes place, and that future generations are equipped with the right skillsets to succeed in the new era.

On a larger scale, businesses that are typically labour-intensive might want to consider how they can shift their business focus to one that is more knowledge based.

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Hearteningly, this need to adapt has been recognised by ASEAN leaders.

For example, Singapore’s Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam shared at the Opening Ceremony of Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific 2018 that Singapore will focus on creating high-quality jobs across all sectors. In line with that, the Singapore government has also introduced new schemes that will allow employees to upskill in a competitive and technology-intensive environment.

Elsewhere in the region, Thailand has introduced a Thailand 4.0 policy that aims to transform its economy into a value-based one driven by technology and innovation.

Winning in the ever-changing landscape

Even though governments in ASEAN are supportive in re-skilling efforts, it does not mean that business leaders should take a back seat when it comes to futureproofing their workforce.

According to McKinsey, only a mere 13 percent of businesses in ASEAN have started on an Industry 4.0 transformation process. Businesses in the region cannot risk losing out on the opportunities that will be made possible by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The key to winning is simple. Businesses need to ensure that every employee is given the opportunity to hone their data skills so that they can easily process, interpret, and act upon data. This skillset, which is commonly referred to as Data Literacy, will better empower individuals to use data-driven insights to make better decisions.

Retaining global relevance 

For business leaders, lowering the barriers to using data and technologies to augment the work environment and therefore, behaviour, of employees is crucial. When it comes to doing so, there are three areas that should be considered to spur success:

1. Upskill individuals

Investing in the skills of employees so their comfort of working with data is no longer optional. Soon, this skill will be critical to the success of the individual, their employer, as well as that of the nation’s wider economy. According to Qlik’s Data Literacy Report, Singapore reportedly has one of the highest percentage of workers (82 per cent) that would be willing to invest more time and energy into improving their data skills if given the chance.

The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs indicates that, in addition to more specialised data analysis and technical roles, technology-augmented work will increase significantly in the coming years. From ecommerce and digital marketing, to organisational development specialists, these roles will capitalise on data and automation to augment our creative and analytical thinking and decision-marking skills.

Current upskilling efforts are largely focused on highly-valued and highly-skilled employees, therefore, it is clear that a greater commitment and collaborative effort is required from the government, education institutions and the private sector to support the wider population.

2. Understand the business case and make better use of data

It is important that leaders understand the opportunities for using data in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – and make the necessary changes to empower employees to use it. 

In fact, Gartner expects data literacy to become an explicit and necessary driver of business value by 2023, demonstrated by its formal inclusion in over 80 per cent of data and analytics strategies and change management programs. 

The Data Literacy Index commissioned by Qlik on behalf of the Data Literacy Project, revealed that organisations with a strong corporate data literacy score exhibit up to five per cent higher enterprise value. Despite the boom in data over the past decade and nearly all business leaders acknowledging that data is important to how their company currently makes decisions, only eight per cent of firms have made major changes in the way the data is used over the past five years. 

It is without a doubt that businesses that can successfully leverage these skills will be the ones to lead in the digital economy.

3. Democratise data to improve accessibility

Improved data skills would be redundant without access to relevant data and tools that enable decisions based on insights. Businesses should look at democratising data, which is simply to make data accessible to every employee regardless of the position they are in, in a governed way, and marry that with increased data literacy to further reap the benefits of data.

Take for example, United Overseas Bank has made data accessible by placing Data Literacy at the core of its operations, leading to a change in its approach to data requirements and internal structures. To date, it has trained over 350 employees in Singapore and looks to expand its training programmes to international subsidiaries.

The rapid evolution and adoption of technologies and agile working processes, which have defined an economic generation, shows there is no time to waste in adapting and pursuing the new opportunities it presents. Data will be its universal language and businesses that master it will reap the rewards in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The writer is managing director, Asean, at Qlik. 


Amendment Note: In a previous version of the article, we stated that Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam shared during the country’s 2019 Budget that Singapore will focus on creating high-quality jobs across all sectors. This statement is incorrect. The article has been amended to reflect the correct event and designation. We apologise for the error.