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To talk about the technologies that are enabling the future of remote and hybrid work, including the metaverse and conversational AI, and why companies need to prioritize digital transformation, VentureBeat’s senior correspondent Kyle Wiggers sat down with Suneet Dua, chief revenue and growth officer, products & technology, at PwC US. Their conversation was part of the VB Transform event, The Future of Work Summit.
Early on in the pandemic, circa 2020, the idea of digital transformation had been bandied about before, but as we all saw, the concept ferociously picked up momentum.
“I think folks that adopted early are going to get ahead, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late for others to adopt,” Dua said. “I have these conversations with C-suite members all the time. The future of name-that-function, whether it’s finance, HR, or marketing, there’s a digital component to it, and you have to be able to embrace it. It’s doing more automation, more work, with less people, with less mundane work, less repetitive tasks.”
Emerging opportunities for reskilling
That doesn’t mean automating humans out of jobs. Instead, people are working smarter and harder, and these new technologies are leading to new growth, revenue, and upskilling opportunities. The emergence of shared digital experiences has created ways for employees to learn new skills and engage in coaching and training, in a very metaverse-like way.
Dua pointed to PwC’s recent Global CEO study, which looked at global talent trends. A full 74% of CEOs said that they’re worried about their employee skills, and many companies are struggling with how to leverage new digital tools effectively.
“We need to start reskilling the current workforce with these future skills,” Dua said. “That’s where I think a lot of this education tech, digital learning, is not making it in the market. People are just throwing so much learning at their people, but what they’re not putting out there is true applied learning to the job.”
Dua believes the metaverse will be key to creating applied learning, that actually works. Most people learn best when they’re given hands-on, practical experience in solving real-world problems.
“In the metaverse, you can apply that learning to teaching someone in a different environment — you can make all the mistakes without having any risks behind them, and you can do it from wherever and whenever,” he said. “That’s going to be the new way of what I call lifelong learning through applied learning. I’m happy CEOs are jumping on, but we have to get them going faster.”
Overcoming the challenges of going digital
While these technologies are opening huge opportunities, there are still some roadblocks. Among them is the danger of siloed decision-making, and a disconnect between the C-suite and the rest of the company. The executives might be finally changing their mindset, but too often middle management is far removed from those discussions, and wants to keep doing the job that they’ve been doing, the same way they’ve always done it.
“I have so many clients where the CFO has hired us, but then you get to the controller’s office and they don’t want to do this,” he said. “But you have to. This is the future. That push has to be more top-down versus a bottom-up swell.”
The second challenge comes from the movement around citizen-led automation and developers, and low-code and no-code development. That groundswell of democratization runs directly counter to the way IT organizations work, where IT experts don’t want plebes messing around in their environment, and the low code and no-code process is completely different from the traditional IT process; there is a lot of friction between the two factions.
“I’m working with quite a few CIOs and trying to help them put a statement out there around how you have to be able to coexist together,” he said. “If you don’t coexist you can’t get scale from an organization.”
Dua has also encountered a number of clients who are still skeptical of new technologies such as RPA and other automation platforms, thinking it’s just a fad.
“But it’s not a fad,” Dua said. “You’re going to need this to speed up your production and supply chain. You’re going to need this to close your books faster. Or you’re going to have very bloated costs, and you can’t do that. The faster they embrace that these technologies are here to stay, the quicker that IT and business can coexist, and middle management and CEOs get on the same page, we’re going to have a real, true acceleration of scale across the enterprise.”
AI and ML are living up to the hype
AI and machine learning has been on the minds of decision-makers for a number of years, but many businesses still haven’t figured out where it fits in their operations, and have been concerned that it’s all hype and no byte. But the pandemic has also accelerated the adoption of those technologies, and companies are finding that AI and ML are living up to their press. They’re increasingly using the technologies to support their business, uncover new growth opportunities, helping decision-makers gain a better understanding of their business divisions and how teams are performing and more — but the data is the real secret sauce, Dua said.
PwC worked with a professional services company to take their reporting digital, moving away from actual paper ledgers and Powerpoints.
“One of the easiest things is to take that data, do data wrangling, put it into a data visualization, and produce a dashboard, whether it’s on a mobile app or on the desktop,” he said. “Someone would say, well, that’s not AI or machine learning. Well, yes, the first time it’s not. But when you put the engines around it, it’s now learning. It’s now learning some of the variances in your business.”
AI and ML help you make better decisions, but data quality is the crux of the whole process, and data quality issues seem to be widespread. The C-suite players want to adopt AI, but don’t realize that data cleaning and prep is often the bulk of the process, and often their investment doesn’t seem to be panning out — and they’re not sure why.
The build or buy question
For every digital technology there’s a raft of companies ready to sell you their solution, ready to plug into your ecosystem. The problem is, Dua said, you have to understand your ecosystem.
“You know your own firm’s infrastructure and process friction — nobody else knows that,” he said. “If you do a hub and spokes, and the hub is third-party and the spokes are third-party, you’re going to have a big mess on your hands.”
At PwC, the hub is the core pieces they’ve built and control in-house, such as their training and learning assets, because they know what their people want.
“When we bought the spokes, it’s this specific expertise,” he said. “Either we can’t do it ourselves or we like that niche part of it. You might want to buy more, because there are a million technologies. But you have to keep the core, because what you’re trying to solve for is that process friction for the end user, whether it’s your customer or your internal customer, what they’re facing every day. How are you making their life easier?”
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