I was led to put these thoughts together for some of us who are practicing their chosen professions and those leading their organization’s workforces where ever you are based, hoping an idea here can help.
The only certainty during this COVID-19 pandemic is the absolute uncertainty or what I can call “unknown unknown” apologies to Donald Rumsfeld, a two-time former American Secretary of Defense. Businesses more than ever before are currently grappling with not only finding out what is selling or what can sell in the market but also how best to engage and interact with customers. For example, manufacturing companies are now confronted with increasing redundancy and excess capacity; customers are embracing on-line purchases and transactions; while remote or home working is gaining ground. Other challenges include how do we keep our supply chains on or at best repair broken ones; and how do we support home working with in-adequate broadband and high cost of data in our country? Mind you Nigeria has the highest cost of the internet globally.
This brings me to my point: There is no better time to enable artificial intelligence platforms in our operations than now if we are looking beyond this pandemic. We are in the so-called ‘gig’ economy and no profession is going to be spared. Just think about this: advanced robots that can identify objects are displacing human beings at the speed of light through artificial intelligence by promoting operations of organizations 24/7, no break- times, no sick leave, and no motivation thereby reducing all the trouble we humans bring to the workplace. Artificial Intelligence through machine learning and advanced data analytics will also help you to detect new customer preferences and demand patterns and provide personalized services online to customers. No more running around endlessly generating sweat to conclude on the agency. Online stores all over the world are smiling to the banks while we are all grumbling and waiting for the pandemic to go away. Movies are being promoted for digital streaming without even being released in the theatres. Peloton and Hydrow just launched digital home fitness services. Yes it is as bad as that. I fear that the long period of isolation and fear of recession will cause customers to cut back on ‘luxuries’ and concentrate only essentials. The German economy went into recession the week before, and I wonder the magic our economic managers are doing down here that we are still not in a depression, or are we? Maybe we have not checked. Artificial Intelligence will help us augment our business intelligence capabilities to detect trends early on and also amplify weak signals. As purchases are now made online, it will enable us to provide hyper-personalized services for effective customer engagement and sales.
I believe that some of the massive shift to home working being witnessed presently may be temporary. But much of it will persist even after the lockdown. More people especially in Lagos will experience the benefits of avoiding hour-long commutes to work; and also more managers will discover they can work effectively from home and will continue and this will have implications on demand for office space and even shops for retails.
As this flexible working arrangement becomes more common, we need to leverage innovative ways of engaging our customers and employees to mitigate the risk of further disruptions and also remain competitive. However, artificial intelligence on its own requires a fundamentally different mindset and new capabilities. For digital immigrants like me and you who didn’t study with computers in our time, it will be a struggle, but we must always dare to improve. Up-skilling and re-skilling our current capabilities will present opportunities to confront the challenging market competition that is threatening our livelihoods. Adequate time, however, is required to understand what a machine is likely to do and what it cannot do, else we become detached and get frustrated with fear and apprehension.
It is not a “death sentence” if you are not a digital native like they say of the Coronavirus, but we must make efforts to leave the isolation center. There is still a place for human judgment and experience in this disruptive technological times. How much of it will remain when this is over, I cannot tell, but my point is that the challenging times places technology at the core of organizations and individuals top-line growth initiatives. The only caveat is that it is crucial to avoid a zero-human mindset in this regard as we must do your part.
Cyprian Konkwo (B.SC., MIWFM)
Ora Egbunike & Associates