We’re living in the golden era of the gig economy. At least, some of us consider it golden. Regardless of how you personally feel about the gig economy, there’s no denying that it has reached peak popularity for consumers, employees, and businesses – thanks in part to the amazing tech startups that led us here.
But where exactly did the gig economy come from? And where does it go from here?
What Is the Gig Economy?
Let’s start with a primer on the gig economy. The “gig economy” refers to a number of trends related to the issuance and availability of “gig work.” In other words, a lot of people are freelancing and a lot of companies are willing to hire and work with freelancers.
Freelancers aren’t technically employees. They aren’t protected or bound by the same laws and regulations that traditional employees are. For example, minimum wage laws, workers’ compensation laws, and maternity leave laws may not apply to freelancers.
Employers benefit from this because they get to save money and hire more flexibly. They don’t have to pay as much money for employee benefits, they don’t have to spend time or money complying with complicated laws, and they can hire people on a flexible basis – and only for the work that actually needs to get done.
Employees can also benefit from this arrangement. As a freelancer, they’re generally not bound by non-compete clauses, which means they can work for multiple employers/clients at the same time. They can also work as much or as little as they want, creating their own schedule and enjoying the benefits of a practically unlimited income.
However, there are some downsides to the gig economy as well (as we’ll see).
A Brief History of Gig Work
Gig work has been around for a long time. The term “gig” itself was coined by jazz musicians looking for a way to describe shows and concerts for which they were hired. Over the years, businesses in certain industries employed temp workers and freelancers when they had short-term, temporary, or frequently changing needs.
However, the gig economy itself didn’t develop much until a handful of powerful tech startups stepped in.
Early Apps and Connective Tissue
The gig economy began to grow as the internet began to see widespread adoption. Craigslist, one of the earliest classified-ad-style websites, emerged to connect employees and employers, and allow people to make temporary arrangements with one another. If you needed a fence painted, or if you needed someone to do a reading for your audiobook, or if you needed a professional model to show off your company’s latest fashion, you could find them on Craigslist.
In turn, a number of other connection-based sites arose and the gig economy began to flourish.
The Uber Effect
Things began to change in the early 2010s, with the advent of Uber and similar tech startups. In case you aren’t familiar, the Uber app functioned like a ridesharing and taxi hailing service in one. With Uber, you can hail a ride from an Uber driver, get to your destination, then pay your driver, all within the app. As a driver, you won’t work directly from Uber, but the Uber app can connect you to individual riders in need of a ride.
In the wake of Uber’s early success, we saw the rise in popularity of a number of similar apps, all of which allowed buyers and sellers to efficiently find each other. These platforms made gig work both more possible and more popular for a variety of reasons:
- The emergence of new markets. Some of these apps created new markets where there were no opportunities before. Uber itself forged a kind of middle ground between calling for a taxi and asking a friend to bum a ride. Airbnb allowed homeowners to rent a room efficiently to new tenants in a way they couldn’t before. Other apps invented entire mini-industries from the ground up, like renting power tools or providing grocery shopping services.
- Convenience for buyers. Buyers, including both individuals and companies, could find professionals easier than ever before. If you have temporary needs, you can’t afford to hire someone full-time, but these apps made it possible to find a kind of temporary employee.
- Convenience for sellers/producers. These apps were also convenient for sellers and producers. Rather than going through the trouble of starting their own business and marketing themselves, or finding a restrictive full-time position, they could take on jobs whenever and however they wanted.
- Minimal interference and natural development. Most tech startups following this formula created small-scale free market conditions. Pricing, worker availability, and consumer demand found a way to balance each other out in a way that became favorable to all parties.
Collectively, the rise of these tech startups helped change the image of gig work from a “last-ditch effort” of someone who couldn’t find a “real” job to a viable economic opportunity for enterprising individuals. It helped to transform the gig economy into a landscape of value and empowerment.
Remote Work Options
The options available for freelancing and gig work have only increased with the rising trend of remote work. New technologies like streamlined video chatting and robust project management platforms have made it possible for a wider range of professionals to work independently from home.
With no need for an in-house workforce, companies are increasingly open to the idea of managing a team of freelancers. And individual workers are seeing the benefits of working remotely for a handful of different clients, rather than pouring everything into a single employer and going to the same office every day.
The Obstacles in the Way of Gig Work
Of course, the gig economy isn’t purely advantageous, and it isn’t loved by everyone. There are some key threats that could jeopardize the future of gig work, including:
- Regulations. Politicians are increasingly pushing for stricter regulations surrounding gig work. Employees are currently protected by a number of fairness and safety laws, which prevent employers from taking advantage of them or putting them in unsafe conditions. Currently, gig workers have little to no protection in this area. While new protections could put gig workers in a more favorable situation, it would also reduce some of the natural advantages of the arrangement, potentially reducing the number of gigs available for freelancers.
- Demand for benefits. One of the drawbacks of being a gig worker is that you generally won’t have access to employer benefits. You won’t have health insurance through your employer and you won’t be able to tap into a retirement program like a 401(k). If a greater percentage of gig workers grow dissatisfied with this arrangement, they may make a conscious push to change the norms within the gig economy (or pick up a full-time job instead).
- Worker dependence and mistreatment. Over time, a gig worker may become dependent on a client, platform, or employer; for example, an Uber driver may not feel able to leave Uber because they’ll be without a steady income. This type of environment can lead to abuse on the part of the employer; knowing their workforce is dependent on them, they can cut pay, slash benefits, and impose stricter performance requirements with reckless abandon. Of course, in a free market, these types of actions would be unsustainable.
What Is the Future of Gig Work?
So what does the future have in store for gig work? It seems like new technologies and increasingly flexible environments are favoring further developments for employers and freelancers. But at the same time, there are bigger political pushes to impose new regulations and restrictions on the world of gig work. Public demands, gig worker satisfaction, and corporate lobbying will collectively determine whether the gig economy will continue to grow or whether it will be permanently reined in.
4 Ways Tech Can Bring a Federal Infrastructure Bill to Life – ReadWrite
The stimulus bill approved by the House of Representatives in late February was the first of two major budget initiatives President Biden is seeking in the opening months of his administration. The second bill, expected soon, will address the president’s longer-range objective of creating jobs by, among other things, overhauling the nation’s infrastructure.
It’s a fact that people on both ends of the political spectrum can agree on: The nation’s infrastructure is in immediate need of an update. The most recent Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. infrastructure a D+ rating.
As the new administration and Congress begin the process of updating the country’s crumbling roads, dams, and electrical grids, one unsettling fact looms large: no one knows exactly how the federal government will be able to solve such a large problem. Improving the country’s infrastructure will require extraordinary levels of investment and public- and private-sector cooperation.
Bassem Hamdy, CEO ofBriq, the leading financial management platform for the construction industry, looks forward to this massive undertaking but warns of potential pitfalls. “The lack of infrastructure development in many areas may be attributed to the bottlenecks existing in construction,” he says. Easing these bottlenecks is going to require tech assistance. This article will discuss how technology can help overcome the industry’s challenges and bring a federal infrastructure bill to life.
The construction industry has been notorious for relying on manual and paper-based workflows for decades. That paperwork can lead to scores of errors and delays that push projects further back from their intended completion. By digitizing all information, using paper as a backup only, information can be easily shared and accessed at all times.
Hamdy acknowledges the impact technology has already had on the construction industry, noting that “Over the last 10 years, a whole host of software providers emerged, turning paper-based workflows into digital workflows, and in the process, moved general contractors specifically to the cloud.” Moving documentation from paper to the cloud has greatly impacted project efficiency in just a few short years.
While cloud storage and instant messaging have become more widespread in the industry, other forms of technology are pushing the construction world even further into the future. One example is digital contract signing, which makes it possible for documents to be verified and signed digitally, eliminating or reducing the need for paper in most situations.
A federal infrastructure bill might not take into account the labor gap in the construction industry. “While the construction industry accounts for over 10 million jobs in the U.S., there is a significant labor shortage to execute the projects that currently exist,” says Hamdy. “Many of the subcontractors are typically responsible for providing labor but consistently struggle to meet labor requirements, which means that projects often fall into delay and cannot meet schedule requirements.”
Certainly, opening up new jobs is a good thing, but only if skilled applicants can fill them. One way to work around the construction industry’s labor problem is through automation. This could take the form of modular construction (think factory-produced or 3D-printed facades) or the digitization of planning, design, and management processes. Even bricklaying or road paving could be automated.
When automation lightens the workload, it frees up the construction industry’s scarce human workers to perform the tasks only they can do. One further upside: the savings that result from implementing automation could improve the industry’s often razor-thin profit margins.
3. Reduced Overhead and Improved Financial Planning
Even though the construction business is very profitable in certain areas, contractors inevitably face risks inherent to large-scale projects. Robust financial planning capabilities enable them to assume such risks and take the necessary precautions to ensure projects are successful.
Financial technology (fintech) allows contractors to more easily develop budgets and track expenses without an extensive finance background. Predictive modeling and analytics enable more accurate forecasting of cost to completion, while streamlined workflows reduce overhead costs. Both functions will help contractors keep projects within their designated budgets.
Some examples of fintech in action can be found at Harper Construction and Wescor, two companies that have seen massive savings by working with Briq. The technology has added the power of automation as well as additional tools necessary to improve financial analysis and workflows.
4. Data Analytics for Current Projects
Data provides insights for calculated decisions on how to proceed with discrete projects and the day-to-day running of their businesses. “The most important thing a contractor can use technology for is in the management of their cash flow,” observes Hamdy. Data can inform everything from the most cost-effective material choices to the most productive hours for employee scheduling.
Data analytics also helps contractors think bigger picture. “Contractors will embrace intelligent financial forecasting, data analytics, and predictive modeling to better anticipate risk,” Hamdy predicts. And as important as it is to anticipate and brace for potential risks, data analytics can also act like a compass pointing toward new opportunities. Pinpointing growth zones before they explode allows construction companies to tap infrastructural gold mines before the space gets too crowded.
The best of tech is yet to come, but what is available today in the construction sector can bring a federal infrastructure bill to life. In fact, it would likely be impossible to carry out such ambitious plans without leveraging technology in these four ways.
Is 2021 the Year of Digital Transformation? – ReadWrite
While all large and successful organizations have already gone through significant digital transformation, 2021 may be the year that small and medium-sized businesses dive in headfirst. Are you ready to join the fold by embracing the next iteration of the business world?
What is Digital Transformation?
Digital transformation has been called a lot of things over the years. And while some would argue that it’s nothing more than a buzzword, those who are involved with it know that it’s more than conceptual. When executed with vision and precision, it can revolutionize a business from the inside out.
In the simplest form, digital transformation can be described as the process of leveraging the correct blend of digital technologies to modify existing business processes and/or create new ones. The objective of digital transformation is to enhance the customer experience and establish simpler, more cost-effective systems that streamline every aspect of value creation.
As industry thought leaders often say, digital transformation begins and ends with the customer. When businesses recognize and follow through on this idea, they can expect to yield an array of benefits, including:
- Greater efficiency. Think about the bottlenecks in your business – the things that slow down processes, frustrate employees, and prevent you from reaching your full potential. In many cases, technology is involved. And if we dig a layer deeper, we’ll find that these technologies are outdated and/or being improperly leveraged. The beauty of digital transformation is that it allows you to fight through these bottlenecks and speed up your business through greater efficiency and output.
- Better decision-making. It’s not enough to have data. You need to know what to do with that data. Digital transformation ensures you’re collecting and interpreting data correctly, which allows you to improve decision-making and guide your company in a better direction.
- Enhanced customer satisfaction. Research from Gartner shows that more than 81 percent of companies are competing primarily on customer experience. And as we said on the front end of this piece, digital transformation is ultimately about the customer. By enhancing customer satisfaction, businesses can cultivate loyalty and squash the competition.
- Increased profitability. An impressive 56 percent of CEOs say digital improvements have helped them increase revenue in the past. And as we move forward into a world where digital transformation becomes even more integral to the health and well-being of organizations, we’ll see this number grow even more.
- Superior company culture. While customers may be the focal point, digital transformation has a positive impact on employees as well. Over time, this emphasis on digital transformation fosters a superior company culture that reduces turnover by elevating retention.
Identifying and understanding these benefits provides some context as to the value that digital transformation provides. The only question is, are you doing what it takes to yield these advantages?
6 Strategies for Seamless Digital Transformation
Digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It takes months and years of proper planning and careful execution. However, you can begin experiencing positive results almost immediately. Here are a few tips to help you do just that:
1. Gain Top-Down Buy-In
There is no digital transformation without comprehensive buy-in from all organizational stakeholders. And more specifically, you must begin the process with buy-in from the C-suite.
Research from McKinsey & Company finds that companies who engage the chief digital officer (CDO) at the beginning of the process are 1.6 times more likely to report successful digital transformation on the back end.
Achieving buy-in requires you to be knowledgeable and articulate in your messaging, but it shouldn’t be difficult. If you do a decent job explaining the benefits of digital transformation, the C-suite will have every reason to support the strategy.
The bigger challenge, per se, is that you’ll have to reaffirm the buy-in continually. In most C-suites, approval is not a one-and-done idea. You’ll need to show momentum and progress through objective data. Be prepared to document the results every step of the way.
2. Assign a Point Person
Don’t be fooled into thinking you can roll out an entire digital transformation strategy with a hodgepodge team of people who already have their hands in a dozen other duties and responsibilities. If you want to be successful with your approach, you should find someone who can lead the way. This may look like hiring a new person for the job or reassigning someone. Whatever the case, be sure to practice discernment.
There are a few key characteristics to look for, including a comprehensive understanding of the digital marketplace, as well as a personality that’s conducive to building rapport and moving others to action.
“For business leaders driving digital transformation, they must be able to lead change and communicate a vision to superiors, peers, direct reports, and users,” mentions Box, a leader in the digital transformation space. “They must understand the impact of a new business model. At the same time, They have to be adept at working with IT managers — explaining the big picture and negotiating specific requirements from IT.”
This person won’t be in charge of executing every element of the strategy, but they will be the ones championing the cause. Everything flows from this person, so get it right!
3. Establish Clear Vision
Your “point person” will be in charge of helping to clarify and communicate the vision for your digital transformation strategy. It’s more important that your vision is comprehensive than catchy. It should be a holistic yet specific idea that considers every aspect of the organization. This includes:
- Tech stack
- Budget and operational costs
- Expected Outcomes
- Stakeholder impact
Your vision essentially amounts to a digital roadmap for the future. It explains where you’re going and which aspects of your organization the strategy will touch. (Which should end up being every department, element, and asset.)
4. Evaluate Current Gaps
Take a look at your current technology stack/processes and contrast this with where you want to be in six months, a year, or three years from now. Consider where there are opportunities to pivot and improve, as well as where you’re coming up short. These are your gaps.
Technological and process-based gaps are where the opportunities for significant digital transformation exist. It’s not just about replacing legacy systems and doing away with obsolete processes that no longer produce the results you need. You need to rethink your approach to certain areas of your strategy – like marketing and sales – and imagine what these areas could look like in a perfect world.
As always, think about these gaps through the eyes of the ideal customer. Every digital initiative should support the customer in specific ways. If an “improvement” happens at the customer’s expense, it’s not true digital transformation. It should start by enhancing the customer experience, then (and only then) should you consider the internal impact.
5. Set the Appropriate KPIs
Every organization goes into a digital transformation strategy with the hope that it’ll work out, but there’s a difference in hoping and knowing what’s actually happening. The best way to evaluate the success of your strategy is to set objective measurements ahead of time. Well-developed key performance indicators (KPIs) with pre-defined benchmarks give you something to measure against.
Setting KPIs begins with figuring out what you want to measure and then building from there. If, for example, you’re trying to measure the success of a new application that you’re introducing to your user base, good KPIs would include: daily active users, ratio of repeat to new users, conversion rates, abandon rates, and average time spent on the app.
Is the goal to evaluate customer experience based on a new onboarding process or customer loyalty program? Metrics like customer satisfaction (CSAT), customer effort score (CES), customer loyalty index (CLI), and sentiment analytics are insightful.
User engagement is a fun one to track. You have options such as net promoter score (NPS), traffic sources, customer satisfaction index, bounce rate, and exit rate.
If it’s the reliability of IT systems that you’re interested in measuring, you may keep an eye on specific metrics like uptime, mean time to failure (MTTF), mean time to resolve (MTTR), and mean time before failure (MTBF).
Other large-scale KPIs that touch various aspects include employee performance, innovation, operational performance, and financial performance.
6. Beware of the Shine
It’s tempting to become mesmerized by the shine of new tech and innovation. And with so many different tools and applications being released on a regular basis, it’s difficult to differentiate between the ones that have the potential to be useful and the ones that are a waste of your energy and resources. Be diplomatic in your decision-making!
Where is Your Focus?
Every digital transformation strategy will have a unique flavor. And while it’ll look a bit different in execution and application, many of the same underlying principles are present across the board. For best results, study what others are doing and view their approaches through the lens of your customer and your business. Your roadmap lies somewhere inside these lines.
When Will Chatbots Become Better Than Humans? – ReadWrite
How often do you have full conversations with chatbots? It might happen more than you think.
These days, millions of businesses are employing chatbots for sales, customer service, and dozens of other functions, giving people the fluidity and directness of conversation without requiring an actual human agent to step in.
Some of the advantages of this move are obvious; if a chatbot can automatically answer basic customer questions, you don’t have to hire a person for the role. You may also see a faster response time, greater consistency, and no fatigue or frustration.
But if your intuitions are in line with the average person’s, you’ll instinctively feel like chatbots aren’t quite at the human level yet.
So is this intuition true? And if not, could chatbots ever become better than humans? When can they do it?
What Constitutes “Better”?
These are complicated questions. They’re hard to answer in part because the utility of chatbots is so diverse; you can use chatbots to field customer service questions, generate leads, or even provide direct services to paying clients in some cases.
But these questions are also difficult because we need to acknowledge what we mean by “better.” What makes a chatbot better than a human?
There are several dimensions in which a chatbot could hypothetically be better than a human being, and in some of those dimensions, chatbots are already objectively superior.
- Cost efficiency. In terms of overall cost efficiency, there’s no comparison. Chatbots are irrefutably more cost efficient than their human counterparts. You’ll need to pay people hourly, or pay them an annual salary, for them to execute conversational tasks for 8 hours a day – plus, you’ll need to pay to train them. While chatbots do carry upfront costs (especially if you’re building a chatbot from scratch), they easily pay for themselves since they function automatically, 24/7.
- Availability. The availability factor is another consideration. Human beings get tired. They get hungry. They get emotionally exhausted. But this isn’t so with chatbots. True, you can compensate for human limitations by keeping people on rotating shifts, but there’s no true substitute for the 24/7 coverage that chatbots can provide.
- Range of service. When it comes to range of service, human beings are real contenders. Modern chatbots can be trained to cover a wide range of topics and help customers with a wide range of issues – but it all needs to be programmed and it all needs to be predictable. Human beings are still much better at handling unexpected situations and improvising; the artificial intelligence (AI) that dictates chatbot behavior isn’t general enough to support this.
- Range of emotion. The emotionlessness of chatbots can be an advantage; they never become frustrated, offended, or impatient. However, many people want genuine compassion or empathy when they’re engaging with an agent – especially in certain applications. For now, human beings are better at expressing emotion and giving people a genuine, “human” experience.
- Training and preparation. We also need to consider the training and preparation required to get a human being or chatbot up to speed. To prepare a human for a role in customer service, sales, or a similar area, you’ll likely need to spend a few days, or even a few weeks training them. Programming a chatbot can take even longer, especially if you’re designing one from scratch; but with the chatbot, you’ll never have to worry about turnover or retraining new people. Additionally, you may have to train an entire team of human beings, but you’ll only have to train one chatbot.
- Communication skill. Communication skill is often at the heart of this debate. Are chatbots capable of understanding what their conversational partners are saying? Can they respond articulately and completely? The short answer is yes. As we’ll see, modern chatbots are incredibly semantically advanced.
- Consumer preference. Currently, consumers overwhelmingly prefer speaking to a human over a chatbot. While consumers do prefer self-service most of the time, most people don’t like the idea of trying to express their thoughts and concerns to a robot. For this reason, human beings are still better – and will likely keep this advantage for the foreseeable future.
- Secondary benefits. There are secondary benefits to both human beings and chatbots. For example, human beings can learn from their conversations with customers and provide qualitative feedback you can use to improve your business. But with chatbots, it’s very simple to gather data directly from conversations, and analyze those data to form objective conclusions about your business’s position.
The Turing Test and Eugene Goostman
For many consumers, the true test of whether a chatbot is better than a human being is whether it’s at least indistinguishable from a human. In other words, are its linguistic capabilities strong enough that they could be mistaken for an actual human?
This is, essentially, the Turing test – a test of a machine’s ability to demonstrate intelligent behavior, devised by Alan Turing in 1950. A machine is said to “pass” the test if humans consistently struggle to distinguish between a real human and a sufficiently competent machine.
Chatbots have been capable of passing the Turing test as early as 2001, when the chatbot known as Eugene Goostman was developed. The Goostman bot emulated a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy, and could carry out simplistic, yet linguistically diverse conversations. Participants were unable to distinguish the bot as being a machine, though there are some limitations to consider here – for example, 13-year-olds aren’t expected to carry out conversations as sophisticated as fully grown adults.
That said, we’ve technically had chatbots that rival human conversational ability for 20 years. Is this enough to qualify them as “better” than human, given their other advantages?
The State of AI-Based Chatbots
The most advanced chatbots of the modern era are robust and highly useful. Microsoft and Google have demonstrated technology capable of understanding human speech on par with human error rates. The latter has also demonstrated a chatbot that can literally make phone calls and make rudimentary small talk when carrying out basic tasks like setting appointments.
Other chatbot platforms showcase their advanced nature with customizability; businesses and individual customers can use the chatbot platform to build the perfect chatbot for their needs, training it and testing it to hone it to perfection.
Exploitability and Visible Weaknesses
There are also some major weaknesses in chatbots that we need to consider. For example, many chatbots have built-in bias from their developers, which prevent them from providing service equally to all your customers.
Other chatbots are programmed to learn from real people; they’re adaptive, and they evolve by studying the speech patterns of others. While this can be a source of major strength, it’s also exploitable. For example, Microsoft’s Tay chatbot functioned similarly when it was released in 2016, and antagonistic trolls were quick to “teach” it how to wield racist and sexually charged language.
Finding a way to preserve advantages without opening exploitable loopholes is a challenge that humans don’t generally have to contend with.
Can Humans Ever Be Replaced?
It’s clear that chatbots are already better than humans in some regards, and they’re not far behind in others. If we hold this true, the big question becomes: can humans ever truly be replaced?
Even if chatbots became so perfect that they were unquestionably better than human conversational counterparts (with no exploitable weaknesses), there would be a portion of the population who always prefers speaking with humans over bots. There’s no guarantee chatbots will ever get to this point, but it remains a realistic possibility.
In short, chatbots are already better than we would have thought possible just 20 years ago. Another 20 years could make chatbots indistinguishable from humans even to the most perceptive conversationalists. But for now, it doesn’t look like humans will ever be completely out of the picture for conversational needs.