Help from AI?

I talked last week about AI – posing the question whether this is the next big technological driver of productivity improvement.

Of course, some people are really worried about AI – and its effects on jobs, suggesting that most jobs in time can and will be replaced by some form of automation.

However, before that happens we are likely to hit a ‘sweet spot’ where automation/robots/AI assist human work  his will allow work which is not possible now.  the winners will be those tht can spot the opportunities and create products and services that rely on these new forms of thinking and movement for their execution.

So the future is not bleak – as with most technology, it is full of exciting opportunities.

The next big thing?

Technological innovation can drive massive productivity gains – but it is some time since we have had innovations of the size of those in the 1970s and 1980s – when the PC first hit desktops – and ‘productivity software’ followed.

Now industry waits for the next major impetus  - and governments hope we might get something of such magnitude that it helps solve the great ‘productivity puzzle’ (whereby productivity growth stubbornly refuses to match pre-economic crisis levels.

Is Artificial Intelligence the answer?  AI is being trumpeted as the next big thing – and †he big tech players are investing millions.

Yet, so far, we see better ways to play our music or switch between apps – but nothing significant in the apps themselves … or – even more important – new forms of app.

These might come, of course.  Technological revolutions do not happen overnight.

Certainly, at the moment, AI seems to be the only contender for ‘the next big, technological productivity driver’.

Watch this space.

Right solution, wrong strategy

The world needs to improve productivity – if we are to raise living standards, feed the world and avoid water and fuel shortages. Yet, governments seem unable to do this – productivity has been at best sluggish over the last 10 years.

Some governments – rightly – see a link between innovation and productivity – but then they go too far in thinking that increased R&D spending will improve innovation.

innovation is not invention – innovation is more concerned with identifying new uses for today’s (and even yesterday’s) technologies.

So ,yes, we need to improve innovation .

But no, R&D spending is not the way to do it.

I am not advocating spending less on R&D – invention is also important – but we need to look more at how we create the conditions in which people think differently – education, training, induction, empowerment – some of these are government responsibilities, others are for the private sector to work on.

GDP per hour worked is †he normal way in which we measure – snd compare – national productivity.

This  is at best a ‘blunt instrument’.  There are so many factors that affect GDP besides productivity.

So, when you read that, say, UK productivity is low compared to another country – take the information with ‘a pinch of salt’.

I think the way in which we measure national productivity requires review, if not an overhaul.  We need to look at social and environmental factors so that we include societal and planetary well-being.

Has theUK got it wrong?

The productivity of Germany and France (GDP per hour worked) is strong – and almost identical … even though Germany is normally regarded as a strong economy and France as a weak one.

Perhaps the ‘social models’ that exist in much of European industry have some merit – and the UK might be better to embrace such models as a part of the EU rather than rush for the exit doors.

Disruption

We’ve all seen technology completely disrupt certain industries – photographic film, film cameras, music recording, etc.

Sometimes what emerges from this process of disruption is a changed but equally strong industry; but sometimes the disruption is so great and over such a long period that the former industry dies but the new one takes a long time to get established. How many of you have got an electric car?
Internal disruption can be quite unsettling too.  If mis-managed, new initiatives and new ideas can cause disruption to current ways of working but the new form of working takes too long to establish – and customers are disappointed.  The drop in performance might be so huge that it takes months or even years to make up.
So, when making major change – plan, plan and plan – and then make sure you have the skills to execute.

Real world issues for Trump

Donald Trump aims to ‘make America great again’ by re-patriating manufacturing and putting Americans back to work.

Laudable aims – but practical?

The second can’t happen without the former …. but if he does succeed in bringing outsourced manufacturing back onshore, in the  short term at least, the US is likely to need more labour hours. Evidence of he last 10 years suggests this may come from immigrants rather than the deskilled, dispirited native workforce.

This conflicts with other elements of Trump’s avowed policies.

Perhaps Donald will find it isn’t as easy as he thought it was.

Welcome to the real world, President Trump!

Resolution?

Some of you will have made New year’s resolutions.

Well, don’t make specific resolutions relating to work and productivity – unless itb is one to revert to ‘first principles’ and review:

your mission and vision

your critical success factors

your key performance indicators.

So, no quick fixes, magic bullets or panaceas.  Improving productivity takes thought and effort, not the application of some latest fad.

Is the NHS the key?

I make no apology for my continued focus on the UK.

Any government should be looking to increase national productivity – by identifying key areas and key levers they can ‘pull’.

In the case of the UK, the National Health Service is such a large part of government spending, that driving efficiency here is essential.  Governments have tried but the NHS is such a behemoth, that it is a difficult exercise.  Changes to one part of the NHS cause difficulties (and unforeseen problems) elsewhere in ‘the system’.

So, the secret is to go for a change in attitude and motivation – and let the NHS change itself.

Setting targets can help – but setting a lower budget is politically unacceptable … the NHS is virtually untouchable – an icon of UK life.  However without some radical changes (such as small charges at the point of use), real change cannot happen,

If we ‘grasp the nettle’ and manage to make the NHS more productive, we can make a massive impact on GDP and on national productivity.

We cannot afford not to try.

UK continues

Further to last week’s comments on the new UK Productivity Council, UK Chancellor Philip Hammond used the Autumn Statement to pledge new funding for fibre broadband and 5G technologies.

The £400 million investment in fibre, called the Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund, will be given to broadband providers to expand their networks,

What does this do for UK productivity?

Well, like most infrastructure investments, it creates potential.

Whether organisations build on that potential is up to them – but they can’t complain about lack of government support and then refuse to exploit support that is given.

So, in 5 year’s we’ll return to his subject and see if we can determine a return on this investment – at the national productivity level.