Opinion: Disrupt or be disrupted

Font Size

- Aa +

Fri 15 Mar 2019 07:28 AM

Opinion: Disrupt or be disrupted

The industries in the region need to adapt to the changing environment and embrace evolving technology

Digital disruption is no longer a buzzword for something that will happen in the future. It’s already well upon us. It’s pushing all of us to adapt and transform ourselves, or risk irrelevance. In professional services, we already see that our clients want us to deliver much more value, in less time (and digitally)and for lower fees. We quickly need to disrupt ourselves before others do by embracing the latest technology to change the way we work, inspire our people and build new alliances to complement our own capabilities so that we’re able to create more impact for our clients.

There are already many new platforms and tools that can fundamentally transform the way we extract, process and analyse data to generate different insights very quickly. It’s also possible to remove countless hours of monotonous and repetitive work by standardising and automoting everyday tasks.  In most cases, learning and using data and automation tools doesn’t require a technology background, just people who are prepared to spend the time and effort necessary to learn new skills. This frees us up to focus on what’s most important: providing insight and solving problems, building relationships (and trust) and also having more time for ourselves. Getting there from here, of course, does require vision, focus, investment and determination – from all of us.

When I look at our 22nd Middle East CEO Survey, 75 percent of CEOs we surveyed consider ‘technological advances’ a business threat, followed closely by 70 percent being worried about the availability of key skills. It’s obvious that the need to digitally upskill our teams and to equip them with the digital tools and technology infrastructure necessary to deploy their new skills should be a strategic priority for all.

We’re in the midst of massive and stressful change, and perhaps nowhere more so than our region

Some of us (and our teams) are quite worried about what all of this means for employment in the future.  I’m perhaps less worried about this, as it’s clear that the skills that make us uniquely human will matter the most: problem solving, building trust, creativity, innovation, agility, relationships and teamwork. With this in mind, cultivating three main skills will prepare professionals for success in digitally dense environments:

1. Connecting the dots

Making connections and seeing the bigger picture, understanding what’s really important and relevant. This means focusing on what a machine can’t do. This is indispensable as the paradox of choice continues to broaden and businesses are left to make sense of data sets and technologies. Simplifying what others seem to overcomplicate will make you stand out, at a time where much is left vague despite a flood of information.

2. Demonstrating grit

We’re in the midst of massive and stressful change, and perhaps nowhere more so than our region. Grit – that combination of passion and resilience, is that critical attribute needed to keep going in difficult, uncertain times where there will be many setbacks to bounce back from. It is that passion and drive that is unique to the Middle East, where we have grown accustomed to volatility and rapid economic change. Given all that is going on, we need to accept context as a given and become stronger for it.

The need to digitally upskill our teams and to equip them with the digital tools and technology infrastructure necessary to deploy their new skills should be a strategic priority for all

3. Clarity on purpose and values

With so much change happening around us, I’ve found that it really helps to have a clearly articulated purpose (the ‘why’) and values (the ‘how’).

Having this North Star is particularly helpful when assessing, for example, various investment alternatives or dealing with difficult situations for the first time. Being purpose-led and values driven provides a much-needed base layer of stability in these unstable times.

In many ways what’s happening is daunting, and I do worry about the future. For example, what should my kids be studying to succeed? Will it be relevant in the future? Will they have meaningful work to do when they graduate? But the glass is also full. We’re moving towards a working world where the routine, monotonous low value tasks -that nobody wants to do anyway - are taken away, enabling us to focus on those things that machines can’t do: working together to solve important problems more effectively and establishing strong and lasting trust-based relationships. Getting there won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be worth it.


Hani Ashkar, PwC Middle East Senior Partner