This post is the first in a three-part series on the exponential professional, focused on ways exponential technological growth might impact professionals in the workplace of the future.
AI. Automation. Machine Learning. Natural Language Processing & Generation. New technology is rapidly disrupting and transforming the nature of work and the identity of professions by enabling humans and machines to work together, side by side. A new breed of professional is rising to navigate this shifting landscape by embracing technology, leaving behind traditional tasks, and applying a uniquely human skill set to focus on higher-value, strategic roles. Enter the exponential professional.
The professional of today might assume that automation only affects nonprofessional workforce segments. Certified professionals such as lawyers, doctors, actuaries, and accountants may feel especially immune to these effects. However, exponential technologies are ushering in sweeping changes for professionals across all levels and industries.
- Cognitive computing – Machines will analyze data sets, identify and apply new algorithms to process data, make decisions, and flag exceptions.
- Process automation – Push a button and maintaining process will become a thing of the past
- Image processing – Assessing hazards and risks such as determining if properties are made of stone or glass
- Natural Language Generation – machines writing intelligent memos and communicating findings
- Virtual reality can give professionals a better understanding of their colleague’s jobs. A call center representative could virtually follow people or processes, transforming their scripts into experience
Getting beyond fear
Professionals’ first reaction to realizing that technology can replace human tasks in their workplace may be fear—the fear of job insecurity coupled with anxiety over their place in the workforce. A look back at a major revolution of the past, the computer revolution, may help alleviate such concerns. During the computer revolution, bank usage of ATM’s exploded. However, instead of reducing the headcount of employed bank tellers, banks used the new technology to open more branches, which led to more jobs. From 1970 to 2010, the number of bank tellers in the United States increased from just under 300,000 to around 600,000.1 This widespread rollout also enabled tellers to take on more complex customer requests, such as new product inquiries.
While technology reduces the need for certain roles, it is often a catalyst for growth in other areas. Upon reviewing UK census data, Deloitte UK discovered that technological advances between 1992 and 2014 caused decreased agriculture and manufacturing employment that were offset by rapid growth in the health care, creative, technology, and business services sectors. The net change was a 23 percent increase in jobs.2 Additionally, there are countless other examples of jobs created in the last decade that are a direct product of technology revolution: mobile app developer, rideshare driver, social/digital media marketer, social media manager, data scientist, chief sustainability officer, drone operator, blogger. While each of these is new and different, each has roots in “old world” jobs with transferable skills: software developer, taxi driver, print marketer, publicist, actuary, environmental activist, pilot, freelance writer. Research suggests this pace of change is set to accelerate with nearly 65 percent of children entering primary school today predicted to end up working in completely new job types that do not yet exist.3 As such, the professional of today should recognize that just like the introduction of computers, the introduction of exponential technologies expands the frontier of opportunities for the business professional.
Just as robots changed the look and feel of a factory, new technologies and the digital revolution will impact the future of the workplace for many professions. For example, augmented and virtual reality will upend learning in the workplace by enabling learners to experience near real-world scenarios in the safety and methodical manner of a simulation.4 This is already being applied in the training of mining personnel where virtual environments can be used to build experience without the need to navigate hazardous environments.5
Similarly, finance professionals can harness cognitive data analytics technologies to automatically prepare and cleanse data, evaluate or identify drivers of results, and document findings. This will enable these professionals to focus their attention on higher cognitive activities.6 By replacing manual processes with machines, talented business professionals can focus on processing exceptions, interpreting and communicating results, and driving forward-looking strategic actions. Integrating machines with people and process can improve the quality of basic data processing, but can also significantly shift the strategic output capacity of any process by focusing talent on more strategic objectives.
A changing workforce
Technological advances are combining with generational changes that will disrupt how companies source talent—and even the very definition of an employee. Traditionally, companies have employed legions of full time, “on balance sheet” staff with set benefits and salaries. However, many companies have turned to alternative talent sources, such as crowdsourcing, to solve problems and create new ideas. A recent study by Harvard and Princeton economists showed that 94 percent of net job growth from 2005 to 2015 was in “alternative work,” or independent contractors and freelancers.7 As technology advances, more and more professionals are expected to join the gig economy, where they may negotiate short-term contracts, work for multiple employers, and diversify their project portfolio. The move to the gig economy is only partially driven by technology. The cofactor to technology is a Millennial mind-set shift toward the workplace. Millennials value work-life balance, flexible hours, ability to work from home, sense of meaning, and a variety of experiences.8 These values are often likely to be satisfied in an alternative work arrangement.
So, what are the anticipated implications for the professional of today? First, many tasks traditionally performed by humans will be performed automatically. This means that professionals can adjust their focus toward augmenting process with tasks that require uniquely human skill. Second, alternative work arrangements will bring about changes to companies’ organizational structures, operating model, and how professionals interact with their employers. Third, industry views on professionalism will need to evolve.9 Standards for how professionals leverage, trust, rely on, and interact with automated processes will need to be defined. This includes adapting employee training, which traditionally focused on creating technically sound individuals, and rethinking professional standards.
Let’s look at an exponential professional in action: an exponential actuary…
- Uses Natural Language Processing to autogenerate reports before breakfast
- Helps save hundreds of hours a year by relying on bots to automatically generate and QA data and perform analysis
- Focuses efforts on high-value activities such as designing analysis and interpreting results
Exponential technologies are beginning to transform the workplace by efficiently and economically automating many human tasks and facilitating alternative work arrangements. These changes enable the rise of a new adaptive, innovative, and strategic professional—the exponential professional—assisted by and working with technology to create unprecedented value.
Next up: In the second post in this three-part series, we’ll discuss the expectations and responsibilities of the exponential professional.
Contributors: James Dunseth, Trent Segers, Wes Budrose, Nate Pohle, Ajay Parshotam, Mehul Dave, and Corey Carriker
7 From Deloitte Review, Issue 21. Navigating the Future of Work [Page 36]