The death of the traditional manager: how collaborative technologies are changing the way bosses work

Collaborative technologies will play an important role in the managing of modern businesses, employees

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 May, 2016, 9:08pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 May, 2016, 11:27am

I was recently discussing with a colleague how much has changed in the workplace in the past 30 years – so how much will change in the next 30 years?

Ten years ago she probably wouldn’t have been able to work effectively from her kitchen table – Skype and video conferences were not a normal everyday event. Step back further and it’s almost unfathomable how technology has transformed most offices. The fax was developed and has been rendered extinct in the course of my working career. I remember when personal computers were introduced into our office and when DOS was the language one used. Who could have imagined working on tablets and smartphones?

We are seeing a new kind of employee with very different outlooks and aspirations. Far more workers are comfortable with collaborative technologies and often prefer freelance and portfolio careers.

Indeed many traditionally desirable career paths are less compelling these days. Accenture research shows that among MBA graduates from two top US business schools – the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University (both of which have had a strong finance focus historically)– investment banking as a career choice fell by nearly 50 per cent between 2008 and 2014.

During that same period, the percentage of MBA graduates who chose careers in the technology industry tripled.

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These figures suggest that banking’s once-dominant appeal over the tech industry has evaporated as new hires are willing to sacrifice some compensation for the opportunity to be part of a small, agile, team-based workforce.

Continuous re-tooling and re-education of employees will unquestionably be the new norm. So will the need to be flexible to ensure that humans, robots and digital technology work together effectively. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) is already beginning to transform businesses in ways hitherto inconceivable. Increasingly we are working with clients on ways to monitor manufacturing controls or implement emergency maintenance interventions remotely from devices ranging from smartphones to watches, and leveraging drones with cameras and other industry-specific monitoring devices that provide process data. It is freeing up the number of people required to do a job and at the same time requires more technical precision in monitoring and analysing processes.

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Most businesses are also increasingly standardising, centralising and have often outsourced a wide range of high-volume, low-value-added processes, such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, ledger entry, expense reporting and other activities once handled at headquarters by an army of staff. Many of this is now being processed through automation, which once again changes the nature of the type of work we do and where we need to do it from.

We’re also seeing the rise of “As-a-Service” offerings where applications, infrastructure and business processes are brought together and delivered as the name implies “As-a-Service.” This enables companies to “plug-and-play” business services that give them the agility to scale up or down on demand and to pay only for what they use. Given As-a-Service often leverages cloud, once again where you are located when you access this service is often irrelevant.

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Then there’s entire areas of technology we’re still just figuring out. Will augmented reality become a reality that will enable workers to perform complex operations with-in-the-moment, guided 3D, and dynamic instructions? Will crowd sourcing deliver the promise of speeding up project fundraising and collaborative work at scale?

It is likely that the next generation of workers will consider an “office” archaic and entire job streams that we do today as quaint as the milk man. One thing is for sure, though, and that is that the pace of change has never been so fast and will accelerate further. In the past technology innovation and productivity improvements required 10-20 years to materialise and it essentially took one labour force generation for change to truly take place. That allowed an orderly transition from one generation to the other.

Nowadays the pace of change makes skills obsolete much faster. The manager who doesn’t stay ahead of change, constantly re-educating and re-tooling won’t be in management for long.

Gianfranco Casati is group chief executive – growth markets, responsible for overseeing Accenture’s business in the Asia-Pacific region, Middle East, Turkey, Russia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America