March of the robots...

Today I have published a report, March of the Robots … into the boardroom. In it I challenge UK bosses to start understanding and managing technology before our businesses lose profitability, brand names and even their jobs within the next three to five years.

Will your job be here in the next five years? Have you thought what skills our businesses need in the future? Here I outline what the future is going to be and five steps that every leader should take if they fail the ‘technology test’.

First, let’s step into that future – I am going to project you ten to fifteen years ahead and then think what this means for your company, your jobs, your skills and new competition.

Think of yourself in an office in a UK city

  • You have a meeting with your lawyer round the corner. You decide to walk. As you walk onto the street, you see plenty of traffic but none of the cars or taxis has drivers. And neither do the vans or articulated lorries
  • You realize you are a bit late, so take a taxi, you speak the address to it. Because there is no driver it has no opinions about the weather, politics or the other cars on the road. This may be a blessing or a sadness!
  • You arrive at your lawyers. You don’t need to sign in because your mobile device is recognized by the building security as you come through the door – in fact you have been tracked all the way.   As you walk down the corridor to meet your lawyer you notice the firm’s offices are a lot smaller than they used to be, there are not that many people but there are a lot of machines, some looking very like people. It is clear that the few men and women who are there, are mostly quite senior
  • After your meeting you continue your walk and go past the Sainsbury’s Express. Yes, that’s survived, but there is only one person working in it who is there to answer queries. Everything else is automated
  • You continue your walk, past a construction site. If you were hoping for some builders’ banter forget it. Everything has been pre-constructed off-site and is being installed by robots. You can only see two managers on site
  • An old pain in your knee reminds you that you need to speak to a doctor. You go in to the nearby medical center. A pleasant receptionist seats you in front of a screen where you chat with a beautifully mannered and very smart robot, who recommends an immediate scan and gives you the results and a set of exercises to take home. The whole process takes just 15 minutes
  • Reassuringly as you end your walk, there is still a wine bar and waiters and waitresses ready to serve you and have a chat. You’ve arranged to meet some friends here, one of the friends is already here, in person. The others are thousands of miles away in a wine bar that looks just like the one you are in. You order drinks and you chat – they are on a big screen but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels as though you are all in the same room

What are the key themes in all this? Fewer jobs generally, especially junior and middle management; no drivers; more senior people needed; business structures have been over-turned; new opportunities to socialize and work alongside people from across the world as if they are sitting next to you.


You might think this is science fiction, but all of this is possible NOW. Driverless cars are being test driven in Milton Keynes right now.

I have been worried for some time that few companies really understand the impact of future technology on their business. So I carried out my own research (an online survey, interviews with directors and partners, being guest speaker with directors). What are the key points?

  • 48 per cent of businesses have not looked at the impact of automation on jobs
  • 58 per cent of businesses admit that their boards are not good at understanding or managing technology
  • Only 17 per cent of respondents think managerial jobs will be hit by automation – and fewer still, just 3 per cent, think leadership positions will be lost

(Do read the white paper to see more examples and the full findings)

So what does that mean for you, as a boss now or if you aspire to be a leader in the next few years?

1. Get interested in technology

Start using social media, if you don’t. Read the technology articles in the FT; what are the latest products, what could be the impact on your business, your competitors – opportunities and threats.

2. Talk to your IT teams

IT should be your new best friend. What areas of work are being automated? Who has looked at the impact of these across the business – on jobs, business structures, profitability and more.

3. Look at your employment and supplier contracts

Are they written to protect your business last year – or in the next five years?

4. Bring in technology advisers and young people

Get them to run some of your strategy days. Get young people to work on projects and challenge the status quo.

5. Become the ‘go to’ person for ideas and the future

Brand yourself as the person who has ideas about the future in your business. You are going to be greatly in demand over the next few years. Businesses are going to have to rethink the briefs for senior people; headhunters are going to have to look wider and more imaginatively for people who can manage future businesses. Be the person on their radar – the world will be full of opportunities for you.

I did this research and white paper to raise awareness, create debate and hopefully wake up our business leaders. I welcome all feedback – and challenge!