AI and the Future of Work

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is one of four major shifts that will have an impact on the Future of Work at telcos (others include societal and culture change, business environment change and pandemic related change)

The term Fourth Industrial Revolution is often used interchangeably with the technologies involved in Industry 4.0. However, in STL’s report The future of work: How AI can help telcos keep up, a broader definition is used (quoted from Salesforce):

“The blurring of boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological worlds. It’s a fusion of advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, genetic engineering, quantum computing, and other technologies.” 

Analyst coverage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in relation to the Future of Work focuses on the impact of new technologies on the economy, workforce and overall job market. These impacts are summarised below, and colour-coded based on the envisaged impact for telcos.

Expected impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Source: Charlotte Patrick, Consultant, STL Partners

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There are two scenarios for the world economy. The first is a boom/bust scenario caused by the rise of productivity, and in turn demand (the blue boxes), facilitated by the use of more technology and automation. The other is a period of lacklustre economic growth, which will follow if automation and technology adoption is slower. The second scenario is regarded as more likely – and the impact on telcos is expected to be less severe than the first.


The skills shortage caused by the ongoing lag in government educational policy may be somewhat compensated for by machines in the mid-term. The Bain report Labor 2030: The Collision of Demographics, Automation and Inequality forecasts that a shortage of high-skilled workers will remain a significant issue for businesses.

Job market

The overall impact of new technology deployment may eliminate between 20% and 25% of current jobs according to MIT. But some job areas will experience growth.

Future of Work readiness

Telcos will have to respond to the changes introduced by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (and those introduced by the other shifts described above) to be ready for the “Future of Work”. Potential responses fall into three areas – strategic direction, skills development, and organisation and culture. Analytics, AI and automation (A3) tools can be useful in each. For example:

  • Data and analytics can help to improve organisational flexibility, particularly the speed of decision making in complex situations to inform strategic direction. The benefits of machine learning remain a promising future prospect.
  • More support from machines will be required to facilitate employee skills development (re-skill and upskill), plus onboard the increasing numbers of outside (contract) workers anticipated. Machines are also important to give workers the information they need to do their jobs.
  • Telcos will need to build trust levels around technology/A3 (algorithms to check machine decision making, explainable AI) to get humans and machines to work better together.

These are just a few of the ways in which A3 can help to tackle challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and improve telco fitness for the Future of Work. For more, please see our report The future of work: How AI can help telcos keep up.

Nicola Warren


Nicola Warren

Senior Analyst

Nicola Warren is a senior analyst, leading the Transformation Leadership research service at STL Partners.

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