Australian business leaders are more likely than their global counterparts to invest in new technologies to disrupt their market, rather than protect existing market share, according to Deloitte’s second annual Global Readiness Report, Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Faces if Progress.
The report, released on January 22, explained that almost half (49 per cent) of Australian business leaders say they invest in new technologies to disrupt their market, compared with 33 per cent globally.
Australian businesses are well-placed to innovate, with 61 per cent of executives believing they have permission from leadership to fail and learn in the context of innovation.
Deloitte chief strategy and innovation officer Robert Hillard said Australia is not short on brilliant ideas that come from investment in new technologies.
“From the bionic ear to polymer bank notes, Australian companies have created world leading innovations. Our challenge, as we compete on the world stage, as a country and individual businesses, is how we consistently commercialise research, to bring the best ideas to life.
“As the revolutionary impact of new technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing becomes apparent, it’s encouraging to see Australian business embracing change by investing in technology and their people,” said Hillard.
This year’s survey of more than 2,000 C-suite executives across 19 countries, including Australia, highlights how business leaders are adapting and preparing for the future and their attitudes towards societal impact, strategy, technology and talent.
In 2018, when asked about their organisation’s readiness for technological and societal change, just 2 per cent of Australian leaders said they felt highly confident, compared with 14 per cent of executives globally.
This year, when questioned on their readiness to lead their organisations to capitalise on Industry 4.0, 37 per cent completely agreed that they feel ready.
Leaders’ confidence in Australia also now exceeds the global average of 34 per cent.
This increased confidence is perhaps partly due to greater awareness of what Industry 4.0 is and community discussions around its impact on the future of work and skills education.
Positive societal impact now a business priority
In the wake of the Financial Services Royal Commission, business is responding to community trust concerns: almost a quarter (24 per cent) of Australian corporate leaders now rank having a positive societal impact as the most important success measure in evaluating their annual performance.
Having a positive societal impact ranks second only to employee satisfaction and retention (30 per cent), and notably higher than financial performance (16 per cent).
Proving that profit and social purpose can co-exist, more than half (52 per cent) of Australian business leaders invest in initiatives they hope will have a positive social impact to generate new revenue streams.
Only 9 per cent say they do so to meet shareholder expectations. Furthermore 57 per cent of business leaders in Australia say they have generated new revenue by developing or changing products or services to be more socially or environmentally conscious.
Investing in future skills development
More than half (57 per cent) of Australian business leaders say they know which skills their future workforces will need to thrive in the Industry 4.0 future and, significantly, 60 per cent say they plan to extensively train their current employees to help them close any skills gaps (compared to 43 per cent globally).
Australian businesses are also more enthusiastic than their global counterparts that the current education system will sufficiently prepare individuals for Industry 4.0 (Australia 53 per cent, global 43 per cent).
“Business leaders are listening to their employees,” said Hillard.
“There are community fears about robots taking people’s jobs, but history shows us that more jobs are created than lost by technological change.
“It’s easy to be fearful about the future, but machines are taking away repetitive and highly physical tasks and creating opportunities for problem-solving and creativity. Our report shows that the majority of businesses are helping their people to re-skill for the jobs of the future, which is encouraging,” he said.
“Every business needs to be more systematic about innovation. Many of the jobs of the future haven’t been invented yet. People need the chance to play with and explore new technology, and work out new ways to use it. Problem-solving is a very human skill,” said Hillard.