Should all leaders invest in emerging technologies?

Tesla’s Elon Musk, Uber’s Travis Kalanick and Apple’s Jony Ive are just a few of the top business leaders who are influencing the future of technology. But can innovation and technology help shape future of business leaders?

Market research published by Gartner in 2015 found that growth remains a top priority for business executives and CEOs and technology-related change is seen as the primary tool for achieving the growth. At the same time, many small and medium-sized businesses are concerned that robots are out to upset the status quo and steal jobs.

Robots and artificial intelligence (AI) aren’t here to threaten the existence of businesses as dystopian fiction often suggests. Entrepreneurs like Bostjan Bregar, founder of 4th Office, which is developing AI for email inbox organisation, want technology to work in tandem with people. As it gets smarter, it’ll get better at learning what people want and how to perform tasks. In the case of his own company, Bregar hopes that AI can make the relationship with email a more constructive one that allows business owners and leaders to focus their attention on more important tasks.

The potential for AI to disrupt business doesn’t end there. It could have a holistic impact, says Stephen Upstone, CEO and co-founder of the mobile video platform LoopMe.

“Although many [business owners] will think of AI in terms of robots which ‘think’ for themselves, in reality it goes much further than that to enable businesses to fulfil their potential.

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“AI can be implemented across all business areas, from determining when is the most cost-efficient time to order stock, the best price to charge for a product and when and where you should place an advert for that product. AI used correctly can benefit business leaders, whether that’s helping them in reducing their costs, minimising waste or optimising their revenues.”

Recent analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers identified robots and AI as two of eight specific technologies that will have the biggest cross-industry impact. The others include blockchain, drones and the Internet of Things. The report argues that these technologies shouldn’t just be a checklist that is delegated to the CIO or CTO; planning for them should be a core part of a company’s corporate strategy.

Read more: How leadership has changed because of technology

The problem is that some business owners decide against adopting it, believing that it won’t amount to much or won’t affect their industry for some time, says Luke Fitzpatrick, founder of Ghacklabs, a mash-up of Reddit, Slack and Facebook that’s still being built but already has 300 founders and investors signed up to the network. But disruption is happening at an increasingly fast pace and businesses need to be ready to lead and embrace technology as it emerges.

“Smart technology is becoming infused in most practices. It’s occurring now and many aren’t aware of it. To keep ahead, modern businesses must become reactive rather than adaptive. A reactive business is ahead of the pack, reacting quickly to technological trends and leads in innovation. On the other side of the equation, you have adaptive businesses. They’ll wait for trends to become mainstream and fall behind the pack.”

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Matt Klein, a trend forecaster at the digital ad agency M&C Saatchi, doesn’t believe embracing innovation is always the right approach for business leaders to take. Especially if the technology conflicts with what the business is trying to achieve.

“Many adopt new technology for the sake of novelty, which often can have detrimental long-term effects. Even not adopting technology strategically can cause collapse – look at Blockbuster for example.

“If a brand is not prioritised over AI, or even virtual reality for instance, the adoption won’t make sense. A brand has to come first. A company like Rolex still to this day don’t use Twitter (they have taken the @Rolex handle but the account isn’t active), because the platform doesn’t align with their brand. They still exist and do quite fine. So to say [all businesses] need to adapt and adopt emerging trends and technology to survive is just foolish and thoughtless.”

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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