South Africa: Cheaper smart machines threaten people out of jobs

The growing trend of companies engaging in the use of “smart machines” may in the long run replace people in at their workplaces and contribute to high numbers of unemployed people, a reality that is envisaged in the short term, a report by Gartner has disclosed this week.

The research company says cheap smart devices and systems will change the work attitude for many companies, widening the chance to get people laid off, warning that companies must change strategies to avoid the proliferation of the gadgets to guard against the impact the trend will have on career paths for many.

In the Industrial Age, automation and mass production resulted in the loss of many jobs; during the period of globalisation many jobs are moving to countries where labour laws allow for the cheap manufacture of consumer goods.

“The impact will be such that firms that have not begun to develop programs and policies for a “digital workforce” by 2015 will not perform in the top quartile for productivity and operating profit margin improvement in their industry by 2020,” Garter said, adding that the careers of Chief Information Officers who do not begin to champion digital workforce initiatives with their peers in the C-suite by 2015 will be cut short by 2023.

The declining price of IT hardware also facilitates the move toward automated digital systems. Increasingly, workers in the digital age are more mobile and company systems more automated than a generation ago and the growth of this dynamic will have serious impacts for companies who do not adapt, Gartner said.

IT cost is typically about 4 percent of annual revenue, versus the labour costs that can be by the use of smart machines are as high as 40 percent of revenue in some knowledge and service industries.

There are further worries that, smart machines may result in increased productivity, they may not face wide public acceptance.

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Pascal Raditsebe Correspondent
Johannesburg, South Africa

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