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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

The shrinking global workforce: Responding with technology

Automation and data intelligence will become increasingly critical building blocks of a successful business.

The shrinking global workforce: Responding with technology
[onephoto / Adobe Stock]

As the global workforce shrinks, businesses face several new challenges. I manage a large team and it seems like every time I get staffed up to the ideal level, something happens that puts us back on the search for hard-to-find talent. Things may get worse before they get better. According to EMSI’s The Demographic Drought report, in the U.S. we can anticipate a declining labor force participation rate through the rest of the century. Ouch.

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AUTOMATION AND IOT

Boomers are retiring. Birth rates are dropping. Economic inequality is growing. All these factors are contributing to a talent gap that diminishes productivity. So, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing customers across all industries implement new technologies like automation tools and AI capabilities designed to increase productivity. Automation is nothing new, but the COVID-19 pandemic permanently removed an estimated three to five million people from the U.S. workforce. That has accelerated the use of automation in many businesses that had been slow to embrace it.

At the same time, new IoT technologies have introduced an entirely new dimension to automation. IoT devices and sensors can now leverage machine learning technologies that help automate predictive and proactive maintenance. Today’s IoT-enabled equipment can identify anomalies, diagnose issues, send automated alerts, and even identify the parts necessary to fix the problem—all with virtually no human assistance.

Even consumer items are getting in on the action. For years, your printer has been telling you how to service and repair it, but now ink is delivered to your doorstep before you know you need it. It’s part of the service plan you paid for when you bought the printer.

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These tools and technologies help boost operational efficiency in several ways: They minimize unnecessary service calls or visits, reduce costs by performing part repair and replacement only when necessary, and ensure business continuity by detecting issues before they impact the organization or its customers. Extending automation capabilities now may provide a competitive advantage and give your business a good head start—before it becomes a business imperative down the road.

DATA ANALYSIS

Over the last decade, technology has dramatically changed the role of the marketer. The widespread adoption of data analytics ushered in a much more scientific, data-driven approach to marketing campaigns and activities. But the trend hasn’t been limited to marketing. Other departments across virtually all industries have had the same experience. Today, data analytics is becoming even more valuable as companies are forced to do more with fewer workers.

To survive, companies must become experts at both capturing and fully leveraging the data that’s available to them. That requires a four-step process.

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First, companies must address information siloes. Only when intelligence is centralized and viewed holistically does it offer clear visibility. Replace outdated, inconsistent data capture and disparate systems with a central, standardized system to collect data, analyze it, and transform it into actionable intelligence.

Second, ensure all data—customer contact information, prospect databases, asset data, etc.—is as clean as possible. Consistent, reliable data is essential to any organization’s success, so you must be extremely diligent about how the data is collected, stored, altered, and updated. It sounds easier than it is—data is surprisingly easy to corrupt, and once corrupted, the lifeblood of your organization is tainted.

Third, make sure you’re collecting all the data you need. If you’re managing assets, for example, it’s important to know when the asset was purchased, what kind of warranty it has, and other basics. But to provide real value, you need a rich, comprehensive dataset that also provides details like where that asset is currently located, how it’s being used, its present state of health, and so on.

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Fourth, focus on maximizing the use of the intelligence you’ve gathered and analyzed. Many marketing departments struggle with this. It’s more than tracking visitors to your website. It’s about devising a method of sharing detailed information with sales development teams in a timely way that maximizes their ability to understand the very specific interests of the organization they’re targeting—before initiating any direct communication.

Automation and well-managed, highly leveraged data analytics can help businesses deal with current and future labor shortages. But technology alone won’t solve the problem. Companies will also need to rethink the way they hire, train, and retain their employees. The right approach to the workforce will make additional strides in alleviating the problem. But I’ll save that topic for next time.


Liz Carter is the SVP of Marketing at ServiceMax with experience in high tech, cloud, SaaS, and communications.

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