Operators are optimistic about the potential of tech such as AI and automation but see a shortage of staff skills as a potential obstacle, a new survey has revealed.

The report by Accenture found that 77 percent of senior executives at communications service providers (CSPs) said that AI and smart technology would be “critical” to differentiating themselves in the market.

A clear majority, 63 percent, of workers at all levels believe these technologies will make a positive impact on their work, with 77 percent saying they would help them save time and 66 percent thinking that they will enable a better work-life balance.

This confidence is leading to action, the survey found, with 73 percent of C-level execs expecting to automate tasks and processes at their companies in the next three years.

The vast majority, 88 percent, of senior leaders said they had "somewhat" or "to a large extent" started to redesign jobs within their organisations.

Their optimism was justified, according to the consultancy firm, which projected that CSPs could increase revenues by 46 percent in the next five years and boost the number of jobs by 21 percent  if they effectively invest in AI and human-machine collaboration.

However, only 25 percent of the C-levels said their workforce was currently ready to work with AI.

Compounding this problem, only six percent planned to increase their investment in reskilling significantly.

A lack of time to train during the workday was a major barrier to developing new skills, according to 47 percent of workers and 43 percent of senior leaders.

Based on the findings, Accenture advised CSPs to up their reskilling efforts and investments to equip employees to work with intelligent machines.

Sevasti Wong, Head of Talent and Organisation at Accenture’s Communications, Media and Technology unit, said the low investment in reskilling means operators were “missing a huge opportunity to equip their people with the capabilities they need to work with intelligent machines and drive competitive growth."

Wong added: “There’s a huge opportunity to leverage AI and advanced analytics to drive new growth, but they will need to master what we call applied intelligence — the rapid implementation of intelligent technologies and humans working together in new ways.

“That’s why it’s critical for business leaders to align their workforces to new business models and invest in innovative reskilling programs to help their people create new value.”

The study polled 865 workers and 100 senior executives in the communications industry between September and November 2017 in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Japan and the US.

In January, Telenor CEO Sigve Brekke announced plans to push his 30,000 employees to spend 40 hours per week learning new digital skills.

Swisscom also announced in January it was making digital skills training a key tenet of a new employment deal it has signed with two trade unions.

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