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More hope less fear, please - Digital is not only changing the way we work, it's improving it

October 04, 2014 | Phil Fersht

I don't know about you, but I've been getting really tired of people lamenting that jobs are being robotized, our operations talent is too transactional and we're all, basically, screwed.

I've also been guilty, in the past, of preaching the doom and gloom scenario for the workforce, as our enterprises find new ways and means to improve efficiencies and effectiveness, however, as business models evolve, so do our labor needs - and this often translates into an even greater need for talent.  I also have an increasing amount of faith in the capability of most workers to evolve and adapt, and our new research supports this theory.

In short, industry has been striving to minimize the reliance on manual labor to support processes for centuries, since the invention of the water wheel, the steam engine, the spinning jenny, the motor vehicle and - of course - the computer. All this means, is that skills which become redundant need to evolve to ones that are in need - and in today's digital era, the need for creative minds, for talent which can use analytics tools and other apps, for knowledge workers which can use their judgement, for customer service reps which can delight customers, HR reps which can delight their managers, accountants which can improve cash flow and support tough decisions, healthcare administrators which can work the changing systems and regulations etc. has never been higher.

Complexity and change drives the need for expertise - and the need for talent has never been as intense as it is today.  Society, education and businesses simply need to ensure today's workers have the environment to adapt to the new methods. In fact, the electronic revolution is only driving the thirst for new skills to an even higher intensity.  People adapt - they always have and they always will.  Just go on LinkedIn to see all the fancy new job titles and career resumes being aligned with the evolving needs or today's employers.  Human nature is to adapt and survive, and today's "digital" environment is creating challenges for some, but great opportunities for the majority, to further their careers and perform more intellectually challenging and rewarding jobs.

When we recently asked 115 major enterprises about the capability of their operations governance staff with the impact of digital transformation, we were pleasantly surprised by the confidence most enterprises have with their operations workers' abilities to reorient themselves to be effective in a digital business environment:

Click to Enlarge

In nearly all digital scenarios, the vast majority of enterprises feel they have talent with some capability to be effective - and, in many cases, very capable.  Only 11% bemoan their lack of analytical talent and 90% are convincing their leadership that a digital roadmap is adding real value to their operations.  Where there is a worrying death of capability is in the area of creating-thinking and the ability to drive effective change management programs, but, even in these areas, there is a clear capability to improve.  It's a largely positive picture with regards to how today's enterprises can cope with the shifts and get ahead of them in time.

The Bottom-line: the digital era is not only changing the way we work, it's improving it

Accountants who used to spend their days pumping reports out of SAP can now spend more time exploring data correlations and global markets to prepare reports for their Board. With today's massive advances in technology and automation, HR reps who used to spend all day filing benefits and payroll information can now spend more time hunting social networks for new talent... procurement staff can develop valuable relationships with suppliers than simply beat them up over a cost spreadsheet all day... healthcare administrators can spend more time prepping doctors with critical patient information, than wrestling with archaic scheduling and insurance systems.... IT staff can focus on creating an environment of usable digital tools and apps for their organization, than maintaining help desk tickets and writing lines of horrible code. The world of work's just so much more interesting and rewarding today that it was even five years' ago.

So let's stop bemoaning the fact we may one day get replaced by a piece of software or an actual robot... or will simply become an unemployable lump of wasted humanity. The future needs us to adapt and flourish with challenging roles we never dreamed of just a few short years ago.

Posted in: Analytics and Big DataBusiness Process Outsourcing (BPO)Buyers' Sourcing Best Practices

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1 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Gerry Crispin
    Posted Oct 04, 2014 04:03 AM | Permalink Reply

    Lol. You are certain to be among those enjoying the improvements. I've no doubt you will always have a job. (And its doubtful I'll be replaced. I'll simply fade away.)

    What I don't think you have addressed in all those 'delightful' opportunities is what happens to the 20% of our 'future' workforce that fails to complete high school and the additional 40% that [currently] won't even look at a college education let alone the 20% that do start and never finish. While educational certifications don't translate 1:1 to the skills we'll need, the # of openings for many of the jobs you note are not large, sit at the pinnacle of strategy, and require more complex KSEs than 90% of the population. And the jobs projected to offer delighted customer service will almost certainly be filled by college grads with some tactical technical abilities but little else. Truthfully, we are not going to replace, for example, the 3 million transportation jobs projected as lost via automation (which you pointed out only a few weeks ago). And those cab, bus and truck drivers aren't going to upgrade their 'delight' skills to fill even the least of the roles you described.

    So, I agree fully that we ought not bitch about our own fate. But, we should also be thinking beyond our 'elitist' selves or there will be a surprise in store for those folks in your survey who are comfortable they are getting enough digital value from their staffs when their digital blinders are pulled off and the unintended consequences of that this technology wave is bringing become real.

  2. Phil Fersht
    Posted Oct 04, 2014 04:22 AM | Permalink Reply

    @Gerry - let's keep this simple:

    1) Manual jobs going away. Yes, transportation could get hit hard over the next couple of decades, but what about the need for more people to repair our crumbling infrastructures, build new homes, drive more taxis, cater for the logistics boom that is exploding due to the rise in ecommerce? I can't for the life of me find people to put up my new blinds, tile my floors, paint my house, clean my windows... there will always be the need for manual jobs.

    2) Knowledge jobs requiring higher level skills. Millennials are already far more digitally-savvy than many of us aging farts - not sure they will all get college degrees, but the workplace is evolving to people who can operate technology. I would be more worried about the mid-career folks who are struggling to change than the entry level folks prepared to hustle for a living. As the data points out, it's only 10-20% who are under any sort of medium-term threat.

    Net-net, I am not saying we're primed for a massive overflow of new jobs, but the need for new skills is rampant and growing - and most of us can step up and adapt to the new economy. My message here is we need to embrace the positive change and adapt our careers to prosper from it.

    Now, will the 9-5 job be the same? I doubt it - people will increasingly work flexi time and on contracts. There will be more small firms that are "born in the cloud" with virtual work needs - again, we have to adapt to this (and most of us already are).

    Is Workday putting 1000s of HR people out of work? No - it's pushing them to be better and using technology to add more value. Is robotic automation going to result in huge reductions in "transactional workers"? No - small reductions, but more increases in efficiency and effectiveness that will create jobs in higher value areas.

    The onus is now on our educators, our parents, our governments to create an environment where out workforce can evolve - as individuals we are survivors...

    PF

  3. Gerry Crispin
    Posted Oct 04, 2014 04:55 AM | Permalink Reply

    Agreed. Just wanted the pendulum to be in the middle. The Luddites will likely return from the grave sooner than later if we don't shift our social/societal policies to support job creation and learning for those parts of the population most adversely affected. Corporations need to put those 'digital' thinking caps on as well and pull their fare share rather than figuring out how to abandon their responsibilities by buying up foreign corps and moving offshore (sorry, couldn't resist).

    Personally, if I were a high school kid today I would begin cornering the market on my block by installing smart devices. I would learn on my own how to pitch and close homeowners on updating their 'dumb homes' and then price, install, teach and then follow up. I would give them my personal 1 year warranty and sell a maintenance contract to be on call if their wearable instructions to have their lights go on, temperature set, food cooked and the groceries delivered had somehow failed. Once I stripped Lowes and Home Depot of their stuff, I would innovate new devices. There are 1 million jobs that don't exist today just doing that and I wouldn't need college to figure out how to grow and franchise that idea...I could hire those college kids to work for me. Now if I could just motivate my grandson or granddaughter to quit being chauffered around by their soccer moms...

  4. John Cavendish
    Posted Oct 04, 2014 07:54 AM | Permalink Reply

    Phil,

    A really excellent piece - and I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment.

    There's far too much "doom and gloom" these days when it comes to the future of the workforce, but the amount of innovation in technology and business models will only drive the demand for new skills and talent.

    The future is bright!

    John Cavendish

  5. Gaurav
    Posted Oct 04, 2014 09:32 PM | Permalink Reply

    Phil,

    I largely agree with your assessment, but struggle to understand what happens to those transactional employee who fail to change / improve their skills. Surely this is the end of the road for many?

    Gaurav

  6. Phil Fersht
    Posted Oct 04, 2014 10:15 PM | Permalink Reply

    @Gaurav - This isn't like the olden days where entire industries needed to be redeployed very quickly (i.e. Thatcher closing down coal mines in the '80s), this is is a gradual evolution of how we work. You can't just fire half your back office because you deployed some robotics - what it does, is free up time to have your staff focus on other activities. In time, you may be able to reduce some headcount as a result of better efficiencies, but the real onus is on businesses to have their talent focused on activities that add more value, help drive growth, help explore new markets etc. Why have Bob the accountant spend 80% of his time processing low value reports that can be automated, when he can reduce that to 25% and then devote 75% to doing research on new markets / M&A opportunities etc? Yes, there will always be a portion of the workforce which can only do transactional work - and that transactional work isn't disappearing overnight, but overall, I would surmise that only about 10-15% of today's white collar workers have a complete inability to evolve - and it will take another decade+ for legacy enterprises to completely overhaul their legacy infrastructures. In reality, back office jobs are under much greater threat as a result of offshore arbitrage, than advances in digital and automation... and improvements in the quality of offshore services. If enterprises can get better digital skills in India and Philippines - plus they are cheaper - they will use them. There is hope for today's workers, but there is also global competition - our businesses have no choice but to change with the times, but if they can - and many are - the future is bright and rewarding for many,

    PF

  7. Pete Mason
    Posted Oct 05, 2014 12:21 AM | Permalink Reply

    Phil,

    Digital is creating tremendous growth opportunities for businesses and their workers - the broader dynamic is the globalization of labour and the ability for firms to source talent anywhere in the world. Agree there is hope - and the data supports this but there is also the challenge of a global labour market and increased competition for jobs,

    Pete

  8. Phil Fersht
    Posted Oct 05, 2014 12:22 AM | Permalink Reply

    @Pete - you won't find me arguing with you here!

    PF

  9. The future of digital labor: There is real hope | Pa91 Latest News & Articles
    Posted Oct 05, 2014 06:46 AM | Permalink Reply

    [...] The future of digital labor: There is real hope In short, industry has been striving to minimize the reliance on manual labor to support processes for centuries, since the invention of the water wheel, the steam engine, the spinning jenny, the motor vehicle and – of course – the computer. …. 1 … Read more on Horses for Sources [...]

  10. Jack Peebles
    Posted Oct 05, 2014 07:40 PM | Permalink Reply

    Solid arguments here. New techniques, disruption and change drive new opportunities and create new labor demands. At some point in the future we may end up with more people than jobs, but that's many years away (hopefully).

  11. Rakesh Singh
    Posted Oct 05, 2014 11:36 PM | Permalink Reply

    Hi Phil,

    I loved reading this - all very positive and encouraging. Personally I have never had so much excitement in my job and the new opportunities are opening up everyday.

    Times of innovation call for renewed hope and investment from companies - let's embrace this!

    Rakesh

  12. Phil Fersht
    Posted Oct 05, 2014 11:41 PM | Permalink Reply

    @Rakesh - I feel the same, but am also mindful that there are many people who are worried by the impact to their employment security. Responsible enterprises looking at robotics, digital, cloud-platforms etc need to be cognizant of the change required from their staff to adapt with these investments. As the data clearly illustrates, most operations people have some/extensive capability to adapt to digital transformation, so most enterprises can invest in what they have... most cannot simply reach out into the market and hire $200K MBAs with Data Science degrees...

    PF

  13. Manish Mehta
    Posted Oct 06, 2014 02:01 PM | Permalink Reply

    Well, it is perfectly ok to consider various scenarios and keep shifting and evaluating between them.The doom-gloom-boom picture at one end and the big hope with technology on the other hand.Sometimes looking into the past first and then into the future provides another scenario, for example, so going beyond just the way we work to the changing big picture:

    1. Technology causing change in the workplace is nothing new (to the work context and to the people doing their tasks).Take simple examples from way back. Mail sorting and postal rooms in large offices shrunk and vanished as the first wave of technologies impacted the workplace. Or even that ATMs reduced the footprint of bank branches etc.

    2. Irrespective of how you see the transactional and young workers the organizational construct (especially large corporations) naturally adopts a state of transactional armies at the bottom of the pyramid. Capitalism, industralization call it whatever - that's just the nature of the beast for over 300 years. Ofcourse technology will chip away and ofcourse the concept of job security went away in the 80s and 90s with the re-engineering wave, but we have still have not moved out to the post capitalist - consumer - small business society yet.

    Surely, the past does not set the direction for the future and there are all kinds of examples of even in recent times that show deep change. But consider things at a fundamental level - maybe Digital could enable that shift to a new age society and we could see a very different scenario emerge over even 10-15 years out, especially in some parts of the world. There have always been outliers (not in the Gladwell context), who did not see the need for traditional education or never worked in a corporation and yet built their own work - life successful. Perhaps digital, IOT, etc. could accelerate society towards the post capitalism generation. The picture could be a very different mix maybe, so why only consider the traditional workforce context when even that is changing at another level.

  14. Phil Fersht
    Posted Oct 06, 2014 09:00 PM | Permalink Reply

    @Manish - it's also glaringly apparent that the biggest "efficiency driver" over the last 15 years has been the advent of offshore services and a genuine global employment playing field for enterprises. Now that wave is peaking, we're looking at that next evolution of value, which is coming from technology-driven "As-a-Service" advances that directly enhance employee effectiveness, such as automating transactional processes, mobility-enabling business processes and the increased usability of SaaS solutions in areas such as analytics and ERP. However, the big difference is the fact that As-a-Service is removing the technology integration roadblocks an the focus moves to usability and business outcomes. Technology has become the enabler, not the infrastructure!

    PF

  15. Manish Mehta
    Posted Oct 07, 2014 05:34 AM | Permalink Reply

    I was also trying to find the technology connection to and beyond the employee effectiveness and improving the way we work aspect. Where would it lead to ahead..? Thinking of the possibilities and impacts to large businesses and their traditional workforce in the medium term and ahead.

    Coming to the more here and now, but ofcourse the context of enabling and improving the experience and reducing the transactional monotony and much more is well made. Fact that technology is enabling and changing the construct is best seen in the FS space. One of the earliest sectors to shift to digital and SaaS, Electronic trading to program trading to HFT networks...technology has completly changed things in the past decade and half.

  16. Arline. R
    Posted Oct 15, 2014 04:20 PM | Permalink Reply

    Does this mean I have to learn how to write code now?

    on a serious note, while the massive uprooting of manual jobs aren't going to happen overnight, I wonder how this will impact offshore staffing and freelancing companies who are already established and have cornered their own market and how they will transition from manual labor to automation.

    Shrink staff and invest in XaaS?

  17. Manish Mehts
    Posted Oct 16, 2014 04:32 AM | Permalink Reply

    Software will write software, there will ofcourse always be bits of tools/models to write fresh code for but the future is about software abstraction going to the next level and more automation.

    The good news is that at the operational level and for many small, medium IT businesses this change is going to take a while and so they will be able to manage a new set of offerings and resources over time. Slowly, the shift will be visible in the kind of staff skills and nature of work that will be required to be done by outsourced service providers.

    Building XaaS solutions is one way but there is a very vast spread of areas covered under this. Another important point is that this is no longer about the layers of technology (unless it is a software tool), but about the business process that the service it represents.

    Amongst other things, I would think technical staffing services providers and such outsourcing providers at tier 2 and 3 may want to consider new skills/roles that will enable process model creation via XaaS tools and the like as well as the operational management of such solutions.

  18. Walter
    Posted Oct 18, 2014 04:42 AM | Permalink Reply

    Walter...

    ...

  19. More hope less fear, please - Digital is not only changing the way we work, it's improving it - Enterprise Irregulars
    Posted May 15, 2015 01:39 AM | Permalink Reply

    […] (Cross-posted @ Horses for Sources) […]

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