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The future of knowledge work

The future of knowledge work

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Published by: Deloitte University Press on Jul 10, 2013
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08/08/2013

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SIGNALS
for strategists
T
WO
important trends are changingthe way knowledge work gets donein organizations:1. Te emergence o new ways o reaching andengaging workers2. Te automation o knowledge work by means o articial intelligence andother technologiesBoth trends have critical implications orbusiness and are o particular importance toproessional services rms.
New ways o reachingand engaging talent
Online talent marketplaces such as eLanceand oDesk help employers identiy workerswith needed skills and engage them in projectwork. Tey allow workers to post their quali-cations and employers to post their needs.Tese marketplaces, also known as talentclouds, acilitate communication and negotia-tion, handle payment, and allow employers torate workers’ perormance. Workers develop an
Theuture oknowledgework
 
The future of knowledge work
Signals
for strategists
online reputation through these rating systems,helping to guide employers in their choice o whom to engage. Millions o workers romaround the world participate in online talentmarketplaces, providing ready access to talentat a range o prices. oDesk reported that hoursworked in its network increased 60 percent in2012 over 2011, to 35 million hours.
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 oday, talent clouds are commonly used toexecute projects in inormation technology,design, marketing, and market research. Butthe range o skills available through these plat-orms is expanding; among the workers oer-ing their services through such marketplacesare also translators, business analysts, andnancial modelers. Some online talent market-places are supermarkets that represent talentacross the proessional spectrum. Others ocuson a narrow set o specialties. ExpertBids.com, or instance, is a marketplace or legal,accounting, and consulting talent, with taxpreparers and human resources consultantsrecently in high demand.
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 Some rms are experimenting with creat-ing private talent clouds. IBM is piloting thecreation o a network o soware developerswho can execute discrete soware engineeringtasks. Te initiative, the Liquid Challenge, wasintroduced in Germany around the time therm announced a workorce reduction there,drawing negative commentary rom the media.Nonetheless, IBM is a big believer in virtualorganizations enabled by talent clouds. As IBMCEO Ginni Rometty recently put it, “Te socialnetwork will be the new production line.
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Automating knowledge work
Another major trend is the growing use o technology to automate tasks typically per-ormed by knowledge workers. Organizationsare adopting a variety o technologies, col-lectively labeled articial intelligence (AI),to automate knowledge work. As these tech-nologies improve, increasingly sophisticatedtasks can be automated. One AI technology,machine learning, can discover patterns andcorrelations in data; it can be used to guide thedevelopment o predictive models and analyt-ics. Among the current applications o predic-tive analytics are:
E-discovery:
to accelerate the process o identiying relevant documents, improvecompleteness, and reduce litigation supportcosts by up to 90 percent
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Recruiting:
to discover the attributes o jobcandidates that predict good perormance
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Venture capital investing:
to speed theinvestment decision process and, it ishoped, nudge investment returns higher
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 Another AI technology helping to automateknowledge work is natural language process-ing. Siri, the automated assistant on iPhonesthat appears to understand and respond tospoken requests, is perhaps the most widely known example o this technology. IBM’sWatson, which combines technologies ornatural language processing, hypothesis gen-eration, and evidence-based learning—all AItechnologies—may have a greater impact onautomating knowledge-intensive tasks rang-ing rom medical diagnosis to responding tocall center inquiries. In pilots with call centers,IBM ound that it could reduce the amount o time operators spend looking or inormationto answer inquiries by hal.
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 Te US military has long conductedresearch and development on AI and contin-ues to nd new applications or it. Te Navy,or instance, is spending over $10 millionto acquire and deploy AI technologies to“enhance, automate, and improve businessprocesses, resource utilization, decision mak-ing, and interoperability” o some o its key systems, weapons, and activities.
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The future of knowledge work
Signals
for strategists
Sotware robots
Other technologies that automate I-relatedservices are emerging. ake the commonsituation in which an organization’s businessprocesses are conducted by means o multiplesoware applications that are not ully inte-grated. Workers may enter inormation intoone system, or instance, then invoke a secondsystem or the next step in the process, andso on. Tis “swivel-chair integration” is whatstartup Blue Prism replaces with automation.It allows business analysts with a ew monthstraining to create soware “robots” that canautomatically perorm tasks that humans swiv-eling between these systems used to do. Casestudies have ound that transaction time can bereduced by two-thirds over the time requiredor manual processing.
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Conclusion
New technologies are changing the way organizations acquire talent and get work done. alent clouds make it possible toengage individuals anywhere in the world.AI and other technologies make it possibleto automate knowledge work, saving time,reducing costs, and improving quality. Tesetrends are anticipated to shape the uture o knowledge work.
 ATOMIZATION: SMALL TASKS AT LARGE SCALE
Atomization means breaking jobs down into microtasks that can be distributed to dozens, hundreds,or even thousands o workers in a process whose logistics and quality are managed by means o aweb-based platorm such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a specialized talent cloud. Companies useatomization when aced with large-scale jobs that can be decomposed into relatively simple tasks, suchas tagging images with descriptive keywords. Automation could be used to conduct at least parts o theverifcation phase o an audit at greater speed and lower cost than conventional methods.TopCoder, a talent marketplace or sotware development, algorithm design, and creative design, uses aorm o atomization when it breaks down a client’s programming challenge into small modules, each owhich may require specialized skills possessed by some members o the TopCoder community. Memberso the community compete to oer the best solution to a particular module.
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