Editor's Note: The following is a guest article from Shawn Wharton, CIO, Supply and Trading at BP.
Automation is everywhere and it is changing our professional and private lives forever. For an increasing number of us, gadgets like Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa are the first point of contact in the morning. Smart home devices can control our lights, heating, security cameras, windows, home appliances and an array of other devices.
The internet of things and the smart home have become a reality. While in the business world, automating operational processes is seen as a key element to increasing efficiency and business productivity.
To me, automation is not only about streamlining a process or achieving maximum efficiency. Automation is also about reducing process risks and increasing reliability.
In our business, automation is allowing us to consolidate data, increasingly freeing up people’s time to focus on higher value tasks.
For example, on the trading floor, robotic process automation (RPA) can mimic repeated processes and automate stress tests. Data lakes can accumulate customized data, scraping sensory data, information on weather forecasts and other factors that impact commodities trading.
This shifts the role of an analyst from spending a lot of time on collecting data and pulling reports to applying thought to interpreting and interrogating the meaning of the data.
There are levels of skepticism toward automation. A recent PwC study, found that 37% of people surveyed across key markets were worried about automation putting jobs at risk.
However, I believe businesses will always need people. From an IT perspective, we will need skilled experts to help design, implement, and run the new systems and technologies. This is why we have been increasingly hiring IT and digital experts. We recognized the need for tech experts to drive change and keep our business on top of the game.
But in an increasingly digital and high-tech working world, how can we ensure that our IT teams develop the right skills? And what can technologists do to stay relevant to the business and future- proof their career? I believe that there are two things that are key:
- Don't take the backseat on learning. It is important to keep up with the latest emerging technologies. Whether its data science, robotics process automation, blockchain or machine learning, pick one or two of the latest trends that you want to develop expertise in. Technologists will become invaluable if they can bridge the gap between disruptive technologies and deep-rooted industry knowledge.
- Develop business knowledge. Technologists need to be sponges, learning and understanding the commercial side of the wider business that they support. The problems that companies are trying to solve are bigger and more interconnected than ever. If a business is looking to solve a problem, they want technologists to understand the problem. This will ensure that the role of the technologist evolves from being a cost center to a value center for the company.
We have also seen that the flow of information and knowledge can pass up and down the career ladder. We have created initiatives like our global graduate knowledge exchange program, which asks our graduate joiners to team up and choose to take on a problem from a number of business areas.
One graduate might be a business analyst from the power trading team, another one might be a developer on our gas scheduling team. They are teamed together and spread around the organization, imbedded into the business and surround by experienced technologists.
We use this opportunity to teach them about our business. The new hires teach the existing team about new technologies, and the more experienced team members teach the new hires about the industry and the business more broadly.
This knowledge exchange is key factor in modernizing and transforming businesses.
Technologists that are placed at the heart of the organization can have a significant impact on the commercial side of the business. In the long term, technologists and other business teams will keep on growing together; there will be less of a differentiation between technologists and the wider business.
For many businesses, automation and digitalization means not only upskilling a few employees and improving a few processes, it means rethinking how our entire workforce engages, both with each other and with technology.