After a hundred years of business, IBM knows about adapting to survive. As the next generation of technology emerges, Gary Kildare, the chief HR officer of IBM’s Global Technology Services, says change will do you good.
These days, big data is big business. By 2020, computers in phones, cars and wallets will help the world produce over 40 zettabytes of data – enough for 20 trillion floppy disks and more bytes than grains of sand on the planet.With such unprecedented numbers it’s no surprise that even the words to describe them are unheard of, and the fact is, those kinds of numbers need more than human talent to process.
It’s something that IBM has been keen to point out to its customers. Recent technological advances mean that the huge amount of data is now accessible and, crucially, understandable.
The people leading today’s businesses need to keep a close eye on these developments, because within big data are the big insights needed to target consumers, improve services and drive efficiencies and innovation. The potential is enormous, from browser searches for online retailers to crowd-sourced designs on large engineering projects.
“The issue around big data is about how to access and make sense of the huge volumes of information – historic or real time – in industries, governments or societies,” says Gary Kildare, Chief HR Officer for IBM’s Global Technology Services. “We know from our external IBM studies on CEOs, CMOs, and CHROs that technology is the most important external factor affecting organisations. Businesses are collaborating more – internally and externally – and becoming more open.”
We live in a world hungry for technology and Kildare points out that with IBM’s enormous appetite for talent and technical development there will never be enough high quality people. “The demand for talent is growing at such huge levels that the world will never be able to keep up,” says Kildare, but the greatest problem facing technology businesses is that unprecedented developments in areas like social enterprise often require skills for jobs that don’t exist yet.
“High-quality people are not a new requirement for businesses and the world will always find them in short supply,” stresses Kildare. “The future will demand that you continue to develop and train the people who you already have.”
Key words for the future of work:
In recent years, IBM has heralded a new digital era. Since 2008 it has led the Smarter Planet initiative, which has highlighted breakthroughs in efficiency, sustainable development and environmental protection. Along with big data, these innovations are underpinned by three other movements: cloud, mobile and social.
Big Data: Big data is the term used to describe the collection and analysis of information from a large number of sources. Its growth has been enabled by inexpensive storage, a proliferation of sensor and data capture technology and new analysis tools that can sort quantities and formats of information previously deemed too large or complex to analyse. Examples of big data include Walmart’s 1 million customer transactions every hour, where trends are analysed within databases estimated to contain more than 2.5 petabytes of data.
Mobile Usage: Businesses can use a customer’s phone or tablet computer to source a continuous stream of social media updates, location and motion logs, purchase histories, internet search records and personal details on social and business networks. According to the International Telecommunications Union’s report Measuring the Information Society 2012, between 2010 and 2011, the number of mobile-cellular subscriptions increased by more than 600 million, to a global total of around 6 billion. And last year in India, mobile usage overtook that of laptops.
Social Business: While businesses can use social media platforms to engage with customers, advertise, and research customers, competitors and new products, ‘social business’ involves using similar technology to connect with partners or colleagues. Its aim is to enhance productivity and efficiency, through collaboration, divided workloads and readily accessible information that minimises resources spent on training.
Cloud Computing: Cloud computing frames IT as a service, rather than a resource owned by an individual or business. By using remote servers and internet-hosted programmes, businesses can save money on equipment and facilities and purchase services from providers offering enormous economies of scale.Yahoo!, Hotmail and Gmail are all cloud services, as emails are saved in a remote data centre, not on a PC, office server, smartphone, tablet or laptop.
It seems that, in a new world of collaboration and stakeholder management, HR’s famous soft skills will become increasingly important. Kildare believes that “in the future everyone will become a proponent of technology”. If this is true, another, and perhaps unexpected, result will be that we will all become proponents of HR. It is an opportunity to be seized by the function itself. Kildare says: “I think the people element of business is the toughest area to solve. People are complicated; work is complicated. And analytics helps HR functions look at the hard data and have the information and the credibility to lead on these things.“The great challenge for HR people and professionals is to become credible activists; to get good at stakeholder relationships, to see the broader context and to get things done. That strategic role is important.”