Project professionals will be at the heart of the digital transformation of the fourth industrial revolution

Posted On: 
7th August 2019

In every sector, project professionals will be tasked with delivering the future and realising the benefits promised by new technologies, says David Thomson is Head of External Affairs at the Association for Project Management (APM).

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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 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, policy makers, for sure: but at the heart of change will be a frequently-overlooked group.

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, digitizing 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, a ‘big conversation’ being led by APM throughout 2019. Following the launch of our discussion paper in June, we are publishing a new Challenge paper on the implications for our profession of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

As recognised in the government’s Industrial Strategy, 4IR technology holds huge potential for us all. Forecasts of its impact vary. 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 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 5-10 years? How much of today’s project management roles 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?

APM is leading the conversation among project professionals, policymakers, and leading UK employers, whose project management expertise is valued around the world. But Projecting the Future is not a closed conversation.

We want to engage with the broadest possible range of stakeholders. We want to hear diverse, wide-ranging views, whether it is about the impact of 4IR, or the role of project professionals in meeting the challenges of climate change; in delivering the future of transport and mobility; in creating smart cities; in adapting to the 100-year human life; and in creating the workplaces of the future. Whatever your stake in the work of the project profession, we welcome conversations about the future.

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 our ‘big conversation’ about how the project profession can best shape the future.

David Thomson is Head of External Affairs at the Association for Project Management (APM). Contact David via ptf@apm.org.uk