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Projecting the Future: the fourth industrial revolution

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It has almost become a cliché of policy and business discussion that we are at the start of a fourth industrial revolution – but it’s true. Digital technologies are set to transform nearly every aspect of how we live and work and in many areas are already doing so. The astounding pace of digital change over the last decade will pale in comparison with the changes promised by automation, artificial intelligence and robotics in the years ahead.

But how will that change be achieved – and who will deliver it? Technologists, business leaders, policymakers, for sure: but at the heart of change will be a frequently-overlooked group. That’s us, project professionals.

In every sector, project professionals will be tasked with delivering the future and realising the benefits promised by new technologies. Whether it is implementing digital transformation programmes in business, digitising key government services, or building technology-enabled infrastructure, project professionals will have a key role.

The profession’s capacity to provide expertise and leadership through these changes will be critical. How we develop that capacity is at the heart of Projecting the Future, the ‘big conversation’ led by the Association for Project Management (APM) throughout 2019, for which we published a launch discussion paper in June. We have now published a new challenge paper, taking a closer look at the implications for our profession of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

4IR technology holds huge potential for us all. Accenture forecast a £654 bn benefit to the economy by 2035, with productivity gains of 25% above baseline trends. On the other hand, there is the risk of significant short-term pain: Bank of England analysis has suggested up to 35% of UK jobs could be lost to automation and AI in the next decade or so, although of course, new jobs will be created too.

Making detailed forecasts about the future adoption of revolutionary technologies are nigh on impossible, as Bill Gates has said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

But as a profession, we can still think critically about the likely implications of change.

We have to ask: how will 4IR affect the project profession over the next five to ten years? How much of what project professionals do today could be adapted with automation and AI? How do we accelerate the adoption of new technology? Which parts of the profession’s work should remain human-led? And how do we ensure the profession has the knowledge, skills and leadership capacity to deliver value through the adoption of 4IR technologies?

We want to hear your views, insights, ideas, evidence on all the questions posed in this paper. And we want examples too. What are the projects that are already making use of game-changing technology?

Change is coming and project professionals will be at its heart. Our latest paper is another step towards making sure we are ready. We hope you will join and contribute to our ‘big conversation’ about how the project profession can best shape the future.

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