There's Never Beena Better Time!

Sandeep Sethi, Chair- Corporate Solutions & Managing Director, IFM - West Asia, JLL JLL is India’s premier and largest professional services firm specializing in real estate. With estimated revenue for FY 2017-18 expected to be INR 3,200 crores, the firm is growing from strength to strength in India for over the past 20 years.

In 2010, if anyone had told me that in the next few years, digital assistants would be scheduling meetings and we will have chatbots integrated closely in our workplaces or 'the fact that Artificial Intelligence(AI)will become so deeply integrated in our day to day tasks, I would have thought that the person is not sane. Yet, here we are.

In less than a decade, a lot of what seemed impossible a decade back has become a reality. But there is more to this evolution - AI is gradually becoming more pervasive in our work. Artificial Intelligence is transforming the workplace and this is just a start. A Gartner report, predicts that one in five workers will have AI as their co-worker by 2022.

We are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution as characterized by Digital and technology embedded every where. Central to this revolution are emerging break throughs in fields such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Internet of Things(IoT), Autonomous Vehicles, 3D Printing and many more.

A new world order has thus emerged, and has already challenged the dominance of traditional corporate houses. Ten years ago, Microsoft was the only tech company in the big league dominated by petroleum giants. Today, almost all of the largest 10 companies in the world are technology firms.

While the market is evolving rapidly and has adopted AI quickly, the industry is abuzz by conflicting schools of thought on the outcome of this adoption. While some predict that AI will replace all kinds of jobs by 2030, some other have different views on this.

McKinsey research finds very few occupations will be automated in their
entirety. In fact, certain activities will be redefined, requiring business processes and job roles to change. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, fewer than 5 percent of occupations can be entirely automated using current technology.

"From a facilities management perspective, the two big areas that AI can contribute significantly are the employee experience and organization’s efficiency"

However, 60 percent of occupations could have 30 percent or more of their activities automated.

Think about the enormous opportunities that AI can generate. If current work environment is complemented with strong data driven decisions enabled by technologies like Internet of Things, Machine Learning and other related smart technologies, workplace can become more productive and efficient. Today, with the advent of smart sensors integrated in all aspects of work, all devices within the company have become a source of data, which makes AI an opportunity to analyze the available data and drive actionable insights.

What are Firms Achieving?
Firms of all kinds, across sectors are harnessing AI to forecast demand, hire workers and deal with customers. In 2017, companies spent around USD 22bn on AI-related mergers and acquisitions, about 26 times more than in 2015. Google has gone ahead and declared that AI will do more for humanity than fire or electricity.

From a facilities management perspective, the two big areas that AI can contribute significantly are the employee experience and organization's efficiency. With smart solutions for desk management, cafeteria management, parking systems, visitor management systems, there is an opportunity to provide a seamless and smooth experience at each touchpoint where an employee interacts with the built environment and in the process, positively impacting their experience at work.

At the other end of the spectrum, buildings today have huge amounts of valuable accrued data on energy, assets and people that can be put to work. With AI and predictive analytics coming into its own, organizations can use this data for insights that bring together operations, maintenance and sustainability for smart operations, occupant engagement and productivity. For the first time, facilities management service providers have a chance to elevate their role from being a reactive service provider to a predictive partner who adds value to a delightful workplace.

Naysayers might argue that robots are coming and a digital apocalypse is inevitable. But consider this, Amazon has increased the number of robots working in its warehouses in the past three years from 1,400 to 45,000. And, yet, the rate at which it hires workers hasn’t changed. Why? Because automation allows Amazon to bring in efficiencies, increase demand and hence, the need for more workers.

The future workforce will need to be equipped with skills to work alongside AI - creativity and critical thinking will be essential, in addition to a range of non-formal qualifications such as independent thinking, networking, and abstract thought. It is time that organizations move the discussion on AI adoption from 'should we' to 'how soon'. Workplaces are constantly evolving and workforce needs to keep up with the pace.