From „doing digital“ to „being digital“: Robin Errico and Andreea Popescu from EY Switzerland on the digital transformation and AI at the next installment of the event series „Women in Industries“ on May 14th.

When it comes to AI, machines and robots, there is a huge gap between fiction and reality. How would you describe this spot “in between”?

RE: As we transform from “doing digital” to “being digital”, we’re all learning to cope with living in the Transformative Age. Everything we know is being challenged – and collectively, we need to find solutions that are still rooted in human values. It’s a challenge to move step by step without really knowing what’s coming up next.

Although this digital transformation offers many opportunities, we also need to be aware that we will see significant changes for today’s workforce. This will be a huge challenge for or even a threat to our society. However, I’m confident that people will be able to effectively handle even fundamental changes.

Future generations will embrace AI, machines and robots as colleagues. We need to start thinking differently about work as we know it and keep an open mind and be prepared for a future where our human capabilities are complemented by AI, machines, and robots. But we will also need to maintain a close and responsible cooperation between business, government and society.

What would you consider a realistic status on the knowledge, but also the implementation of AI and machines in companies you are working with? What’s the situation regarding control and support functions?

AP: The maturity is different de­pending on the technology in focus. Robotics, compared to AI and Machine Learning, is more mature and reliable. Organizations start to industrialize RPA, Robotic Process Automation, at a far greater extent than before. AI and Machine Learning are still rather new and less tangible in terms of immediate monetary benefits – so the rate of adoption is slower. Some organizations still have inflated expectations about these benefits and this only makes it harder for them to leverage the real value add.

Are companies aware of what the challenge is now? What comes next and what could be expected beyond?

AP: We see that more clients start to understand the “bigger picture” underneath digitalization. That is leveraging the information that you as an organization currently have or could have access to, to use relevant and reliable insights that help you drive the business forward.

The challenge now is no longer to have RPA or some other form of AI, but rather to get most of the tools as well. How does it all fit together? How does it contribute to you being a better business partner for your clients? How can you drive relevant insights to improve your business and stay ahead of competition? ­These questions are the key.

What does a leader need to drive a successful transformation?

RE: A successful transformation is not a “one-man-show”. Therefore, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of what a successful leader needs to have is a good and reliable team. However, this is not the only element: if you are a leader that’s facing a digital transformation, you also need to have a good grasp of the purpose of the transformation – we call it “The Why”.

This would act as a red line of the entire program and is key if you want to take the people with you. They need to understand the “Why”. Digital innovation advances so fast that what you thought you could do today, may be obsolete tomorrow. Thus, being agile is also very important. But above all, I believe all leaders should lead with purpose and by values in daily life and in behavior.

Statistics show that businesses with embedded organizational purpose outperform the market by 42% and have a more motivated and engaged workforce. Purpose provides a path for employees to navigate through uncertainty and change. And: purpose builds trust.

We need to have a long-term perspective and not only focus on short-term cost saving. 60% of tomorrow’s jobs have not yet been created. This means that we all need to share in this responsibility – companies, governments, higher education, and each one of us. We too, as individuals, are responsible to continue to educate ourselves and to remain flexible through this transformative time.

Do you have a specific example of a digital transformation and what was the impact on people and the company on a very basic business level?

AP: We have recently finalized a Digital Finance Strategy project with one of our top clients. One of the key elements that led to the success of this project but also to the entire organization to be able to define their future digital purpose was collaboration and teaming. We created a framework that allowed finance leaders from around the globe to contribute to defining the organization’s future purpose. And then the strategy that would fulfill that purpose and at the end commit to implementing the strategy.

Bild: Andreea Popescu, EY Schweiz, Women In Industries, Event

What got us to be successful up until now, could look very different from what will make us successful in the future.

It was amazing to see how efficiently agile teams worked together to define their digital mission and how engaged they were once they understood what would be their individual contribution to making change happen.

To this end, this client’s future digital purpose is not only to become a digital leader and an insightful business partner, but also to attract talent and foster high-performing teams. There is no “one-size-fits-all” in defining and driving a digital transformation. Every organization has a unique journey.

Often the implementation of AI, machines and robots cause fear throughout the organization. Instead of investing in reskilling and upskilling of people, generally automation is used to save headcount and costs. Can you provide a positive example of a control and support function that has developed to a strategic driver over the past decade?

AP: At this moment we see more organizations changing the approach from leveraging digital enablers in a tactical to a strategic way. This also means that digitalization is seen from a more holistic perspective: organizations, people, processes and systems. However, some of the most successful digital transformations that we’ve seen had a strong leadership component that manifested across all company levels.

RE: It is clear that many com­panies are not investing enough in human capital, specifically reskilling or upskilling and fostering an environment of continuous learning. Rather, they are more focused on cost saving measures by replacing head count through automation. This approach may work in the short-term, but are companies actually missing out on a long-term opportunity? Are they removing employees that could actually be critical to their future success rather than making a small investment in training? Will these companies later be fighting a war on talent to get employees back once they are reskilled through other means? Who will be responsible for the redesign of education to meet the demands of the jobs of the future? What role will the gig worker play in the economy?

We understand that most employees will be sharing jobs with machines, working side by side. The machines will supplement and at the same time replace workers, some jobs will disappear completely. New job categories will be created by automation and on many levels, we can already see how Millennials are redefining the workplace.

How can we catch up with younger or future generations?

AP: That’s an interesting question! Catching up is easy, teaming might be more challenging. Younger generations have more options and are more agile in how they work and how they develop their skills. And they ask for a new way of working, have different priorities and demands.

This also means that we as an organization need to foster an environment that allows younger generations to develop and collaborate in a “new way”. Sometimes we’re “sticking to the norm” a bit too much, whereas younger generations redefine norms. What got us to be successful up until now could look very different from what will make us successful in the future.

RE: I agree. Additionally, I would say that our hierarchies need to and will become flatter. We need to embrace the digital natives' capabilities and combine this with the older generations' decision making experiences and wisdom. Everyone must trust and respect and learn from each other. The so-called “Generation Contract” is challenged and needs to be redefined with a strong focus on collaboration.

What do we have to consider now to be able to embrace a future within the company we are working in?

RE: At EY, we need to focus even more on people, inclusion and innovation. The younger generation and the speed of change forces us to be more open and flexible, to try new things and be courageous with new ideas. This is a huge opportunity for all of us – facing the challenges of the unknown, learning and growing together.

AP: I would say that curiosity is a key element here. Although it may sound mundane, I strongly believe that we have to be curious about the world around us, the digital wave, the new skills we need, the way the new combines with the old – or doesn’t. Be curious about how we can contribute and be part of the change.

RE: Making the leap from “doing digital” to “being digital” requires anchoring everyone in a new digital mindset. We continue to explore how to deploy and integrate AI and robotics throughout our business as well as with our clients. In this context, we should not forget that the human element is just as important as the digital element. That is why it is essential to invest in continuous learning as well as change management to enable employees to work alongside machines.

Consideration should be given to recruiting new talent that’s able to offer new skill sets. And companies should consider hiring for mindset more than skillset. As we look to the future, it is clear that future employees will be working with technology that is not yet invented and solving problems that have not yet been identified.

To be successful, employees will need to be constantly learning and acquiring new skills. These long-term investments companies make will further set the tone for commitment to the future, creating long-term value for the company as well as for the employees and society as a whole.


The third edition of the “Women In Industries” event series will be held on Tuesday, May 14th 2019 at AURA Zurich. The evening will focus on the third step of the Fundamental Transformation Priorities: “Modifying control and support functions“.


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