Few Companies Explore New Technologies

Aliah D. Wright By Aliah D. Wright June 6, 2017
Few Companies Explore New Technologies

​Compared to a decade ago, fewer companies today have teams that study how emerging technologies may aid the workforce—even though technology has expanded exponentially since 2007, according to a new survey.

In 2007, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) issued the results of its first Global Digital IQ Survey. Back then, the company said "digital" was just another name for "IT" and technologies like mobile, social, analytics and cloud computing had just begun to gain traction among consumers.

Today, however, new technologies like virtual reality, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, the use of drones and more threaten to "disrupt industries and remake age-old ways of conducting business," wrote Chris Curran, a principal and chief technologist for PwC's U.S. advisory practice, on the company's blog. In an interview with SHRM Online, Curran added that "the spectrum of emerging technologies and digital services available to companies is increasingly diverse and can sometimes seem overwhelming." As a result, he said, most companies are no better prepared to adopt new technologies than they were 10 years ago.

And that could hurt businesses that seek to attract talented workers who want to use the same types of technologies they use at home, or even newer ones. It may also strain business practices and processes and hamper innovation.

Curran said companies need to make sure they choose technologies that employees will want to use—not just ones that seem popular.

"In order to determine which cutting-edge technologies are right for each business, leaders must consider viewpoints from all corners of their company," he added. "HR professionals are positioned to make an important contribution to this conversation and should feel comfortable engaging in discussion of tech investments from an employee-centric angle."


[SHRM members-only toolkit: Introduction to HR Technology]


PwC's 2017 Digital IQ survey report explores how companies have invested in new technologies. Survey responses were collected between September and November 2016 from 2,200 technology and business executives worldwide.

Published in early May, the report reveals that 52 percent of companies rate their digital IQ as "strong" or "very strong," down from 67 percent in 2015 and 66 percent in 2014.

Additionally, new tech investments are stagnant. For example, 10 years ago the average investment in emerging technologies accounted for 16.8 percent of a company's budget. Today it is 17.9 percent, "despite the radically changed landscape and the importance of digital to business success," the survey report notes.

Respondents said they face many digital obstacles, including outdated technologies, lack of integration of new and old data and technology, and inflexible or slow processes.

As SHRM Online columnist Josh Bersin wrote for HR Magazine in January, HR is poised for reinvention this year due largely to the evolution of technology.

"Almost every HR tech market will face disruption in 2017," he wrote. "The convergence of mobile computing, video, sensors and artificial intelligence is taking place simultaneously with an intense focus on employee engagement, culture, wellness and productivity. The result will be a new breed of products that will totally reinvent what HR technology—and HR itself—can do." Bersin is principal and founder of research consultancy Bersin by Deloitte in San Francisco.

Introducing the Biggest Disruptor: Blockchain

PwC said in the survey report there are essentially eight different types of technology that have driven this disruption.

They are the Internet of Things (devices other than smartphones and tablets that connect to the Internet); artificial intelligence; robotics; 3-D printing; augmented reality; virtual reality; drones; and blockchain, which Fortune describes as "a way to structure data, and the foundation of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin."

Blockchain is so disruptive that New York City-based multinational professional services firm Deloitte states on its website that it has "the potential to change entire company landscapes."

The video below provides more detail on how blockchain will change financial services and other industries.


PwC's report also reveals that:


  • Fewer organizations have teams that explore how these technologies can aid their business. In 2007, half of companies had a team that did so. Now, only 33 of companies do; the remainder rely on ad hoc teams or work with third parties.
  • Employee skill levels have not kept pace with new technologies, and skill levels at most companies are insufficient to keep up with emerging technologies.
  • Companies fail to make research on new technologies a priority. Attempts to explore new tools also ranks low among the most important digital initiatives in the next 12 months.

    "Companies who ignore the employee adoption component of technology investing are ultimately inhibiting their own success in the digital innovation game," Curran said. "Better understanding of these technologies prior to investing can help business leaders to select technologies with the best chance of successful implementation in each company."

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