Harnessing Data for Competitive Advantage: Empowering HR Leaders for Rapid Change

From the 19,000 BC Ishango Bone to the 2023 ChatGPT boom, digital transformation isn't merely a tech overhaul; it's a holistic shift that, at its core, must engage and evolve with the workforce.

Empowering HR leaders for rapid change

Corndel invited leading HR and L&D professionals from enterprise organisations such as Ocado Group, Legal & General, Co-op, Bosch, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, TSB and others, offering a unique space to explore the world of data, powered by the academic excellence of Imperial College London. 

Hosted by Corndel and Imperial College Business School.

Harnessing data for competitive advantage

In the fast-paced, ever-evolving business landscape, the importance of data as a transformative asset has never been more evident. Our recent HR Data event peeled back the layers of this narrative, revealing connections between the historical trajectory of data, the challenges of contemporary leadership, and the intricacies of digital transformation.

David Brown, Director of Executive Education at Imperial College Business School, said:

“Firms talk about people as the most important assets and the need for digital transformation in almost every corner of the business. At Imperial and Corndel, we have been delighted to explore questions like: What are the opportunities? Where do we start? and what choices are available to us? While there are several choices, doing nothing is not one of them.”

The first data scientists were women

Kicking off the event, Dr Cathy Mulligan traced our human relationship with data from ancient times, highlighting the fascinating evolution from primitive menstrual counting on the Ishango bone in 19,000 BC to today’s vast data networks and AI algorithms – confirming that women were indeed the first data scientists on record. By travelling through 21,023 years of data history, it became clear that the data story is a continuous evolution, supported by the fact that humans will create 463 exabytes of data daily by 2025 (International Data Corporation (IDC). With this understanding, a core lesson emerged: the sheer volume of data matters less than our ability to derive meaning from it. It’s not the data itself but its intersection with human intuition that generates real transformative value and ensures its responsible use. 

The unregulated dangerzone of AI

Amidst the promise of AI, there looms a cautionary note on the potential pitfalls of unregulated technology. Through David Rowles‘ examples of voice deep-faking and reality augmenting contact lenses, it became apparent that AI poses ethical, societal, and even existential risks. These unchecked algorithms can amplify biases, infringe upon privacy, and erode any sense of trust. With 85% of AI projects failing due to lack of oversight and ethical considerations, the need for robust regulation of AI technologies was a topic that resonated deeply. As the benefits of AI continue to surge, the shadow of its unintended consequences without proper oversight remains undeniable. It’s a duality businesses must respect, intertwining innovation with responsibility.

James Kelly, Co-Founder and CEO at Corndel

“In the age of digital transformation, the fusions of essential human skills and digital and technology skills will become the foundation of future-ready organisations. At Corndel, we’ve always believed that the integration of technology and human skills is the key to unlocking unparalleled competitive advantage. As we navigate the complexities of the digital age, it’s essential to remember that our greatest asset is not just the technology and data we harness but the people who interpret, innovate, and lead with it.”

The democratising power of technology

The rapid rise of AI has instilled a common apprehension: the eventual redundancy of human labour due to technological advancement. This sentiment was robustly countered by expert Dr Mark Kennedy from the Data Science Institute, Imperial College London. They emphasised AI not as a usurper of jobs but as a catalyst to redefine them. In his view, AI will handle the mundane, allowing people to focus on using their human skills to enhance organisational productivity and efficiency.

This positions technology as a democratising force in the workplace. As tasks become automated, human skills like empathy, leadership, creativity, and strategic insight will become coveted assets in the future of work. Leadership and seniority will hinge less on role-specific tasks and more on the richness and scope of these human skills. With 52% of global tasks being automated with current technology by 2025, understanding and preparing for these shifts is imperative (World Economic Forum (WEF).

The ethical imperative of AI governance and the role of people

Amidst these waves of change, where does organisational readiness stand? Daniel Rowles addressed this pressing concern, highlighting a frequently overlooked yet pivotal department: Human Resources. Digital transformation isn’t just about tools or strategies; it’s about people. Ignoring the human element, especially the workforce’s concerns, aspirations, and development, can derail even the most meticulously planned digital strategies. A recent survey suggested that 70% of digital transformations fail due to neglecting the workforce aspect. HR, thus, isn’t merely a support function—it’s a key player in an organisation’s digital maturity. Digital transformation isn’t a tech overhaul; it’s a holistic shift that, at its core, must engage and evolve with the workforce.

Sarah Evans, Legal & General, Future Capabilities Manager

“The experience has been very enlightening, I think that as a technophobe before, I would hear the term AI and get scared, but actually, technology is not going to get ride of human connection its not going to replace people, it how we now adapt and utilise the tools that are available and equip our people and our colleagues with the capabilities they need from the future.”

The challenges CEOs must meet

Yet, what about those at the helm? From the vantage of out-going Chief Digital Officer, Mike Seville laid bare the challenges that CEOs grapple with. CEOs face an existential challenge amid a landscape of rapid technological advancements, competition, and shifting consumer demands. The IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) study surveyed 3000 CEOs worldwide, revealing that nearly 40% harbour apprehensions about their organisations’ sustainability in this digital age, highlighting the urgency of aligning strategies with skills and culture development. There’s a growing realisation that the future isn’t just about the next big tech tool. Instead, it revolves around people. Investing in talent, skills and fostering a culture of continuous learning becomes paramount. The future isn’t AI vs. humans—it’s AI and humans. 

People first, technology second

The HR Data event’s overarching theme emerged undeniably: people first. Technology, despite its transformative power, is but a tool. The real assets of an organisation are its people. Their skills, creativity, resilience, and innovation will shape the future. While data offers a formidable tool for competitive differentiation, its true potential is unleashed when aligned with human insight, adaptability, and vision. An organisation’s success in the digital era isn’t determined by its technological prowess alone but by its ability to seamlessly meld this tech capability with human potential.

We extend our gratitude to all those who participated in this insightful evening. These events bring together like-minded professionals to learn, share insights, and explore critical issues about the future of work. Stay tuned for more event updates.

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