NEW DELHI: As chairman and senior managing director at management consulting firm Accenture in India, Rekha M. Menon helps clients navigate the disruption caused by changes in technology. Her focus is on digital strategies and she wants the firm to be known as the innovation partner for its clients. In an interview, Menon talks about how intelligent technologies are reshaping the demand for tasks, skills and jobs and how businesses need a new approach to learning so that they can achieve the growth promised by new technologies. Edited excerpts:
How do you think new technologies like AI will reshape the demand for skills and jobs?
It’s already reshaping it, fairly dramatically, it’s beyond and not just AI. One, there are many new job roles emerging which weren’t there before and emerging at a very fast pace. In fact, we co-led a study with Nasscom, just in our industry, we said that there will be 155-plus new skills and 66-plus new job roles. Similarly, that’s happening in every industry that you see. Two years ago, you didn’t have drone operators, right? That’s a new job role, or a social media manager in your own industry (journalism) which wasn’t there and is a new role that has emerged. Therefore, what technology is doing is creating the need for new skills. The job itself may not have changed. For example, a healthcare provider or a nurse, but as his or her need for administrative tasks disappears because that’s got automated, then he or she has to build on different skills like more empathy, more time for the patients, etc. And that’s the second thing that is happening.
The third thing that is happening is we need human plus machine skills, because we have to learn to work with the machines. Therefore, that requires very different skills. For example, when you go onto an app to connect with a bank, there is a chat bot there that is automated, and has to be trained to recognize – are you an angry customer or are you looking for a loan or are you looking for more information. So that training is very different.
There is a lot of worry about reskilling, so how does reskilling catch up with the pace of technology and what do businesses need to do?
If I look at what businesses need to do and I can speak from our example. We learnt fairly quickly that the days of long trainings are over. The mantra is really rapid skilling, micro learning all the time, anywhere or on-the-go. We in fact changed our learning curriculum and created a new learning framework where we were actually using neural network and understanding of how people learn and making it more experiential, modular and more gamified.
But this means that organisations have to invest in training. According to Accenture’s research, 80% of Indian business leaders do not believe their workforce has the skills needed to work with advanced technologies such as AI. Yet, less than 3% plan to increase their training investment significantly in the next few years. There is a gap here. The last part is the learning itself has to change because the way we have thought about learning we assume that learning is different from working. You learn for a X number of years, then you come to the workforce then you work. One, that model has gone. Two, there is no predictability anymore. The whole thinking has to change, the whole framework has to change and see how we equip our children not with content but how to learn. How do we make them agile, equip them with human skills, because a lot more of that will be needed.
What about issues of data privacy and cybersecurity? And how should enterprises deal with that?
I am glad that you asked this because one of the things that we are talking about as our next technology vision going forward is saying that in the post digital world the biggest issue is trust. What you are saying here is really to do with trust, how do you assure your customer, your clients and your people that their data is secured; Secondly, that it is being used in a responsible way, because we all give up some privacy in order to get better services. I allow Google to know where I am so that it can give me a better map. Hence, I am giving up my privacy, but that should be used in a responsible and transparent manner, which parts of my data are being used and for what purpose. So, it’s a big issue and very much boardroom topic. And organizations that don’t focus on that have a significant impact on their bottom lines. So, trust is a big business issue because you can have a significant negative impact on the business, but also positive if your organisation can be trusted, your brand will do better as compared to another brand.
Why do we have so few women leaders in technology?
Let’s step back from technology because technology as an industry does rather well. If you look it across, women in the workforce itself is a larger issue. It is a combination of multiple factors such as how they grow into the workforce, what keeps them in the workforce. Not only within the workforce but also outside- the culture, the familial, social economic circumstances that happen not participate them or drop out and then third would be what biases exist. Our late CEO took a stand and we have committed that we will be 50:50, i.e, gender neutral by 2025 and we are well on the path also. In India, approximately 40% of our workforce is women. So, firstly there has to be a leadership commitment. It’s like any other business strategy that you make a commitment, then you track it and then you publish it and then you are transparent about it. Secondly, you have to make sure that the policies are around, there is no point making commitment without it. If there is strategy, you will take the steps required to make it work. It’s like any other business strategy-what is needed, what plans are needed, what policy changes are needed to get to that goal. Lastly, women themselves have to aspire, raise their hands and demand their place in the sun.
Any learnings you can give to working women?
One, be clear on what path you want to traverse because there is no right or wrong. But each of us have to be responsible for our destiny. Then plan for that, which also means you need to negotiate those spaces more at the workplace, with your support systems whether it is your family or others. Negotiate those spaces and then stay relevant and keep reinventing yourself. And ask for help.