Foresight Series London: Human Transformation in a Digital World

Human transformation in a digital world: a thought-leadership panel discussion with an invited audience, hosted by Financial Times | IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance. Held at the Financial Times in London on 13 May 2016

  • Panel Chair: Robert Shrimsley, Managing Editor of and FT columnist
  • Daniel Susskind, Economics Lecturer, Balliol College, University of Oxford
  • Debora Lee, Chief Human Resources Officer, BT Global Services
  • Kenneth Davis, UK Chief Technology Officer, Wolters Kluwer

What will be the impact of digital transformation on talent?

The transforming influence of digital technology has had a profound impact on the way society operates. Globalisation, disruption to traditional industries and to our ways of working, new routines of social interaction: these are just a handful of the consequences of a technological revolution that is probably less than half-way through. Such contentions are well-rehearsed. But what of the human transformation?

  • How has the revolution changed the way people need to be managed?
  • How can executive development help established businesses and start-ups alike succeed in the new digital economies?

These are just some of the questions debated at this unique event bringing together a group of experts to debate the issues: looking back at what businesses and professionals have been through, what’s going on right now, and taking a glimpse into the likely digital future.

Hosted by FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance, in partnership with the Global Drucker Forum and IEDP-Ideas for Leaders, the Foresight Series brings together senior managers, chief learning offices and senior HR professionals to generate discussion, new ideas and business-focused learning opinions.

Via video link, Richard Straub of the Peter Drucker Society built on this and explained that understanding the human element is the key to leveraging knowledge – and improving the productivity of knowledge work.

Opening the discussion as panel chair, Managing Editor of, Robert Shrimsley, introduced his fellow panelists: Deborah Lee, Chief HR Officer of BT Global Services; Kenneth Davis, UK CTO of Wolters Kluwer and former EMEA Director of IT at Turner Broadcasting and CIO of Channel 5; and Daniel Susskind, lecturer in economics at Balliol College, Oxford, and co-author of The future of the professions: how technology will transform the work of human experts and an expert on the impact of technology on labour.

Daniel Susskind discussed and elaborated on the premise of his book, addressing fundamental questions such as: what are the prospects for employment, who should own and control online expertise, and what tasks should be reserved exclusively for people?

He divided his vision of the future into two parts. The first is reassuringly familiar: we are already using technology, integrated into our professional lives. The second version of the future we will see increasingly capable machines with artificial intelligence algorithms (AI) taking on more of the work of professionals. He referred to the reality that, in the USA, 15 million tax payers use tax return software instead of employing accountants. These two futures (integrated and advanced AI) will run in parallel, but the second future will eventually dominate. It will lead to the dismantling of the original professional fields.

Kenneth Davis believed that organisations must keep pace with changes in technology. He explained that we must understand that we cannot outsource digital product developments without having someone who understands our customer (the human) involved in the process. Through data and the skills of a technology team, the customer’s behaviour and priorities can be revealed in tandem, bringing bring organisations closer to the customer.

Deborah Lee held the view of technology in the workplace as ‘do or die’: the workforce needs to deal with faster and faster change as a result of the technology and digital revolutions, or risk becoming obsolete. People, therefore, must be agile and resilient. In this sense, knowledge and experience are becoming less important; the people that will succeed will be those who have a good learning ability and can conceptually make leaps that others cannot.

To prepare the workforce for such change, she suggested we need to make the ‘inside world feel like the outside world’. At BT, for example, there is virtual academy developed in ways to make learning easy and frictionless. The internal experience in work has to be as good as the experience of the digital world outside.