We have passed the point where we can drive profits and growth through efficiency gains alone. The next wave of competitive advantage will come from innovation and creativity. At the same time, automation is redefining many traditional occupations, freeing employees to work in new ways. Cognitive capabilities have the potential to open a universe of knowledge and modelling capabilities in many fields. The right tools canautomate tasks, enable creativity, reveal insights and connect activities and experiences across any device.
Automation means a lot of routine work is disappearing, says George Westerman, principal research scientist at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. This will open the way tofocus on innovation and creativity rather than repetitive work.Imagine salespeople who don’t take orders or fill out expenseforms anymore; they can focus on client relationships instead. Or manufacturing engineers who can exercise their creativity to improve products and processes instead of troubleshooting minor operational blips. Or human resource professionals who can improve employee engagement and development instead of pushing papers or managing compliance. “These new technologies—machine learning, mobility, the Internet of Things—are enabling new ways of working that were just not possible before,” says Westerman. “It takes a rethinking, not just a tweaking.”
Tom Davenport, professor of information technology and management at Babson College, has studied the role ofautomation in wealth management. Robo-advisors are veryadept at routine tasks such as tax-loss harvesting and portfolio rebalancing. But they are not so good with psychology. “The best system is a hybrid of human and machine that frees advisorsto do what they do best: be a financial coach,” he says.
The question most organizations should be asking is “What value are we adding to the world?” says Davenport. “If a machine can do the same work for us as it can for our competitor, how do we add the human creative spark?” he asks. Adding creativity, imagination and insight will be the key differentiator—and the key challenge—for every organization in the era of the augmented human.
Technology gives us a wider choice and more sophisticated tools. But what most of us want is less complexity—an intuitive interface to get what we need when we need it. Gartner calls this a shift from technology-literate people to people-literate technology. The changing culture of work will require a balance between providing the best tools today and building an infrastructure that can accommodate the intelligence, security and analytic power of the cyber-physical revolution already underway.