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The future of management: Computer says do

Tom Cheesewright

Tom Cheesewright

In his first blog for inspire, futurologist Tom Cheesewright explains why even the top tiers of management will be automated in the years to come

You won't like it. Few people do.

Little causes friction in a business like the introduction of a new process.

That friction slows businesses down - large ones particularly. It makes them unresponsive to market changes. Even when those changes are an existential threat.

The accelerating rate of technology change means that companies of all sizes need to be more responsive now than ever before. Across every sector of industry, technology is enabling new forms of competition. It demolishes whole business models and creates new ones in a matter of years, in a cycle of 'creative destruction' described by economist Joseph Schumpeter.  HMV, Blockbuster and Comet, were all doomed by their failure to keep up with online trends. Blackberry and Nokia, leaders brought low as their scale caused innovation to stagnate. Watch the accounting and legal sectors in the coming years as smarter software combined with offshore support diminishes the need for local expertise.

Big performance requires big data

To be responsive to a changing environment requires rich, real-time performance information. Managers need the levers to effect change in the business, quickly. Here technology offers not a threat but a solution.

 

If you want to see what management process automation looks like, look for any piece of software with elements of workflow in it. It could be as simple as a to do list built into your email and calendar package

Business Process Automation has been a buzz phrase in the tech industry for some time. It's another three letter acronym for the world's consultancies and software firms to sell us. But there is some hard reality beyond the hype. Change has been happening across businesses of different scales and sectors. And at all levels of management.

If you want to see what management process automation looks like, look for any piece of software with elements of workflow in it. It could be as simple as a to do list built into your email and calendar package. You set up a task, put a deadline on it, and tick it off when you're done. Used fully you now have a forward calendar of activity and a retrospective record of what you did, and when.

Now add some more elements. Track how long a task took; lots of software has time recording built in. Even more valuably track the outcome: I did this, it resulted in that. Now you're starting to generate valuable data. You can learn, optimise, and forecast better. Now share this data with your peers and superiors.

From call centre to C-Level

Most call centres operate like this, recording each individual's performance and wielding the stick and the carrot in response. But it remains something of a novelty for we white collar types. Not for long. What today are 'knowledge management' and 'customer relationship management' systems will soon evolve and amalgamate into sophisticated job sheets that define the working day for even the most senior tiers.

I've experienced it first hand. Working in a startup where software development best practice was translated into a broader management approach. Even as a co-founder I subscribed to the idea that we agreed a set of actions and expectations on a given timeline, input the 'brief' to a job ticketing system, then tracked our (my) progress against each task in an online forum open to my management peers. I may have been involved in the strategy but the software dictated each day's tactics to me.

It worked. Things that felt right or important (the way that so much of the white collar day is defined) proved not to be so valuable after all. The added clarity let us spend more of our most precious resource - time - on the things that worked.

If this sounds unappealing to you, think about your own working day. How much of it can you put a value on? What did that meeting achieve? That email: did you send it because you ought, or because it was going to deliver something? That sales/marketing/operational activity: do you do it because it's profitable or because you've always done it?

Wouldn't you like everyone in your business to be able to answer these questions?

Change is coming

The reality is that managers are an expensive resource. Monitoring and optimising your activity has direct value in maximising the returns from your time. And it generates even greater value in the returns from those that you direct. Process automation may have value in the call centre or on the shop floor, but its value is multiplied when it is applied to management.

Whatever your role, whatever your industry, this change is coming sooner or later. You won't like it. But it might just save your company.

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