We live at a time in which the global forces of change challenge our societies, businesses and us as individuals to adapt. The main driving forces of change are globalization and digitalisation accelerated by automation, robotization and revolutions in technology. As a result, two pervasive shifts can be identified: the first, a transformation in work and livelihoods, and second, a dramatic shift in customer behaviour.
The effects of digitalisation extend from the everyday lives of individuals to the very highest levels of society and into every sector. Traditional industries are transformed one by one while entirely new industries emerge all the time. Developments in technology enable entirely new customer experiences to be offered all the while aligning customer expectations across national and sectoral boundaries. From an economic point of view, digitalisation enables a massive productivity leap in every area of society.
In order to benefit from the opportunities that digitalisation brings, purposeful reform is needed. For society, reform means especially dismantling norms and other barriers to competition, renewing infrastructure, and increasing labour market flexibility. What matters for Finland in the digital era is what kind of business environment our society offers our companies. Some things are vital; for one, increasing access to open data – data is fast becoming the most important form of capital, the effective use of which is a prerequisite for national prosperity, as well as sustainable competitiveness.
It is not only society that needs to look forward and undertake reform; companies must also prepare themselves for digitalisation and build confidence in the future. The accelerating pace of change underlines a need to for a generational shift in organisations; no-one can afford to ignore the skills and change that the young bring.
Digitalisation, automation and robotization also change the nature of work. Old forms of work disappear, and are replaced at an ever-increasing rate. The labour market is also undergoing polarisation; old middle-class jobs are disappearing while there is increasing competition for the highest performers and the most skilled. Work and income are undergoing a transformation, creating uncertainty especially for individuals. In the future, an employee’s most important skill is the ability, and willingness, to learn. For individuals, continual renewal of skills is by far the easiest way to maintain their value on the labour market.
Renewing skills and retraining is important not only from the point of view of individuals, but for the success of our society as a whole: how do we ensure that the skills we develop meet the requirements of our changing working lives? At OP-group we have been working on this theme a lot lately, since, as a Finnish pioneer in digitalisation, we are among the first in meeting the changing pressures on the skills and capabilities of our staff.
I believe that those who successfully survive this transformation, are those for dare to reinvent themselves early on and those who follow the customer instead of competitiors. Renewal depends on people – irrespective of the size of the organisation. In a transforming work environment, management is charged with creating a reform minded atmosphere, leading from the front by concrete examples and communicating a drive to change, all the while giving individuals the space they need to try and to shine.
The author Reijo Karhinen is CEO of the OP Group.