Technology – A driver of change? 1

We have been used to a world where technology has, arguably, been the primary driver of change.

Well, will technology continue its role as the architect of change for the next decade?

The IT research group Gartner certainty thinks so. Earlier this month it issued a news release profiling its latest research – putting forward that the workplace will see ten changes over the next decade[1]. In brief, these changes are:

1. De-routinization of work. The underlying argument here is that technology will continue to take over routine, predictable processes. Technology will therefore allow us to focus on more creative, innovative value-adding activities.
2. Work swarms. Basically, this is the next generation of team working where people (who may have not worked together before) get together to work on a issue and then melt away when the task is completed. The argument is that in an increasingly unpredictable world, more ad hoc working is needed and swarming will “displace structured, bureaucratic situations”.
3. Weak links. Directly linked to swarming. If we’re going to spend more time working with people that we haven’t met before we need new ways of getting to know them and that’s were technology like social networking will come into play – to help develop effective and confident weak links.
4. Working with the collective. To survive, organizations have to become increasing aware of the needs, interests and demands of a range of potentially small interest groups (referred to by Gartner as “the collective”). The collective cannot be controlled so it is vital to have ways of gathering information about their thoughts and of course analyzing this information once it has been gathered.
5. Work sketch ups. Organizations will become increasingly dominated by informal non-routine work processes but it will take many years for these new processes to be documented. A long period of development and experimentation or “sketching up” is needed.
6. Spontaneous work. More unplanned creative activity to meet an unpredictable environment.
7. Simulation and experimentation. The emergence of the “n-dimensional” super spreadsheets enabling business to simulate new business environments and then to inter-act with them.
8. Pattern sensitivity. Looking for emerging patterns and trends in an unpredictable world. Projecting scenarios and implications for business leaders.
9. Hyperconnectedness. The current trend to increasingly complicated working networks (partly as a function of  outsourcing) within and without organizations will continue with implications for processes and organizational structures.
10. My place. The confluence of the above trends produces an unpredictable work environment for employees – “their work will increasingly happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In this work environment, the lines between personal, professional, social and family matters, along with organization subjects, will disappear …”

This is thought provoking research. But will all these trends come to fruition?

Subject to ceretis paribus, yes.

But what are the implications of the above trends? Consider carefully:

  • De rountization of work.
  • Simulation and experimentation.
  • Pattern sensitivity.
  • My place.

These trends imply:

(a)  An increasingly highly skilled workforce.  Only a fortunate few may possess the required competences.

(b) Exceptional levels of commitment to the organization.

Now consider:

(1)  The long-term impact of austerity measures in the developed economies.  The Guardian has recently reported the prospect of over 1.3m job losses here in the UK[2] and doubts that the private sector can fill the resultant gap.

(2)  The observation that a move towards a more highly skilled services-based economy has put employment out of reach for many[3].  Some are also saying that educational establishments in the west are just not producing the required skill sets[4].

(3)  Some observers[5] suggest that in the US alone as many as 40 million jobs risk being offshored over the next two decades.

(4) The US and arguably many other developed economies face the prospect of entering the next recession (caused by an oil supply crisis) with unemployment levels very near their current levels[6].

Putting these factors together means that the developed economies face the Battle of the Jobs.  So will society allow technology to take its course?

[1] Gartner Says the World of Work Will Witness 10 Changes During the Next 10 Years. Gartner. August, 2010

[2] Elliott, L. Budget will cause 1.3m job losses, says Treasury. Guardian. June 29, 2010

[3] Brewer, M et al More unequal – but why? Institute for Fiscal Studies. December, 2009

[4] Rosen, H. “If It’s a Recovery, Where Are the Jobs?” Peterson Institute. September 1, 2010

[5] Blinder, A. Offshoring: The Next Industrial Revolution? Foreign Affairs. 85(2): 113-28

[6] Janszen, E. “Are These the Economy’s Good Old Days?” Harvard Business Review – The Conversation, September 2, 2010

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