Software eats the workplace

The emergence of the so-called digital enterprise means the end of work as we know it. But what's going to replace it?
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

The emergence of the so-called "digital enterprise" means the end of work as we know it. But what's going to replace it?

Photo courtesy of HubSpot

That's the question asked by Robert Thomas, Alex Kass, and Ladan Davarzani, all with Accenture, in a new report on the impact of digital technologies on workplaces. The authors say that within technology advanced enterprises, workers will engage with "intelligent processes," versus the emphasis on "repeatable processes" from the days of yore.

What, exactly, does it mean to have intelligent processes? Is this another contrived consultant's term?

Consider that in the first stages of information technology, existing processes weren't necessarily changed, but simply paved over with technologies. Now, as Accenture describes it, information technology -- in particular, analytic data -- is making new types of processes possible. An intelligent process "is studded with sensors that monitor every move and feed those observations into sophisticated models that allow people and software to make real-time adjustments and decisions."

Thomas, Kass, and Davarzani say such capabilities enable flexibility to "take advantage of fluctuations in the price of raw materials or spikes in the demand for specific products or services." But the story doesn't end there -- it will change the way people work, specifically in three ways:

Experiment-driven rapid iteration:Gone will be the days of completing projects, then throwing them over the wall to the next downstream department. Also, there will be more tolerance for failure. Work will comprise fail-fast, experiment-driven approaches that will sweep away tasks based on more predictable patterns. Already, Thomas, Kass, and Davarzani say, large retailers are adopting such practices, "testing prices and adjusting them rapidly to take account of changing market conditions," based on analysis of stored data. In the automotive and aircraft manufacturing sectors,  “nondestructive testing” has become the norm. "Computer-based simulations of crashes and other stress conditions replace the extraordinarily expensive and labor-intensive practice of building physical prototypes and destroying them to get data."

Recombination: It will no longer be an either/or choice of people or machines to accomplish tasks. Instead, people and machines will be working in close collaboration, the authors point out. “'Teaming with machines' may become the norm," they say. Expect to even see cross-training between humans and robots.

Edge-centricity: The days of hierarchy are vanishing, thanks to technology. Decision-making will be pushed "away from corporate headquarters to the far corners of the enterprise," say Thomas, Kass, and Davarzani.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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