I magine you are spending a day at the beach, your feet in the water, looking at your family on the shore. Someone calls out: “Hey, have you heard about that big wave everyone is talking about? And you are thinking, well yes, but not here, that is never going to happen here.

Then, you get hit in the back by a wave, you lose your balance, you tumble head over into a mess of sand and water, maybe even feel that you are drowning, but you work your way out of it. Isn’t that how it felt when the coronavirus hit us? You get back up and yell at the person: “You could have told me!”

And they shout back: “No, not that wave, the bigger one.” At this point, you would be wise to turn around and see what is coming.

For the past three years, I have been trying to raise awareness that a major period of change is coming our way, and that we need to prepare for it. The urgent message is that if we do not, it could leave many of us without jobs and could impact our economic competitiveness.

No, I was not talking about the coronavirus, I was talking about Digital Transformation through technologies like AI and others. But here we are. A less predictable event had a similar outcome, and we are all hoping that this impact will be temporary and that we can go back to a more normal life soon.

mal life soon. When that time comes, what will we have learned beyond social distancing, spending quality time with the family, and how to make masks? I for one believe that we should have learned that there is a premium on preparedness. Imagine if you would have had a few more weeks of extra time to prepare. Whether you use that time to buy more toilet paper and disinfectant, stock up on groceries, get your house ready for home office, get a larger line of credit for your business or sell your stocks — the outcome would have been substantially more favorable.

Here is the thing. We principally had that time. We heard about the virus as early as December, but we did not think it would come to us, did not believe it would affect us. Once it did, everything went fast, and there was no time to get ready.

So, let’s look at Digital Transformation. It will not come as quickly as the coronavirus, but it is coming, and it will not go away — ever. It will transform how we live, how we work, and how/what we need to learn.

Are we once again going to believe that it will not come to us? Are we going to assume that here in Wisconsin we will have five more years to get ready, like we have had in the past when it comes to new technologies? I would not count on it. The “spread” of digital technologies is happening at an exponential pace (does that sound familiar now?) and based on the World Economic Forum will affect almost every industry in every country.

It is my belief that the current crisis will actually interact with Digital Transformation in a number of ways. Companies now realize how vulnerable they are and they will look to technology to mitigate some of those weaknesses. In the same way as Y2K boosted U.S. productivity, we may see a similar effect in the coming years. As part of these changes, we may see a de-globalization of physical supply chains (less movement of people and goods). New manufacturing models will emerge and will rely on technologies such as advanced robotics, 3D printing and others paired with new autonomous transportation and delivery paradigms. On the flip side, we will see an increase in digital globalization (the exchange of data and information).

The amount of data that is available in the world is exploding and AI will be the key tool to turn that data into value, separating winners and losers. 5G will help move that data around more efficiently and Edge Computing will allow smart devices to make their own “decisions” in an instant.

If some of these terms and concepts don’t sound familiar, you are not alone. Most of us are not yet aware what all these new technologies are and how they will be impacting our lives and businesses. And that is my point. We cannot afford to get caught off guard, not again. Millions of jobs will change, countless will be lost (maybe lost again after an initial re-opening recovery), and the majority of us will have to acquire new knowledge and new skills.

What can we do? The first step is basic education. You can learn on your own through YouTube or Google, you can attend webinars or enroll in online classes. You can read one of the many books on Digital Transformation or AI, or you can join Meetup Groups on a range of topics. But please, get started.

I just conducted the first ever (virtual) Digital Transformation Immersion Day for the faculty of the Cofrin School of Business at UWGB. It allowed the attendees to understand what is coming and to get themselves ready as educators.

Many commented how the experience has completely changed their outlook on what they need to teach their students. Once your eyes are opened, you cannot unsee the reality. You will want to learn more and be on your journey to get ready.

The next step is to understand in more detail how your career or business will be impacted. A simple website such as willrobotstakemyjob.com can give you some of the basic information. Then start asking questions. Ask the question in your company, or if you are the leader of a business, ask the question of your technology partners, ask your peers, ask your chamber, ask your industry association. Ideally, you will get answers. At a minimum, you will cause them to start asking themselves whey they don’t know.

Since 2017, Advancing AI Wisconsin has been on a mission to bring some of this knowledge to our region and state and the journey continues forward with Advancing Digital. Virtual (and hopefully soon again in-person) seminars will be offered in collaboration with regional universities and colleges. Businesses will be engaged in opportunity assessments to help them find the technology partners they need to get fully prepared.

What none of us can afford, especially after the devastating impacts of the coronavirus crisis, is to just assume that everything will be OK. The world is changing, and the more we know about why, when and how, the better we will be able to prepare ourselves, our businesses, our schools and our region overall.

Oliver Buechse is owner of strategy firm My Strategy Source and co-founder and executive director of Advancing AI Wisconsin.