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The Future of Work – Data-driven decision making

Big data, cloud services and consumerization of IT are no longer emerging trends – they are now embedded in mainstream IT.  Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI), the next generation of Industrial automation (Industry 4.0), intelligent analytics and Quantum Computing are the next wave of emerging trends.  When we talk about the future of the workforce, what we are really talking about is the relationship of people and data.  A key skill of the workforce of the future will be to take the vast amounts of data that is being collected and transform it into information and actionable insights to drive decision making.

The nature of work is changing

Let’s take a moment to consider the disruptions taking place in the workforce, driven by technology advancements.  Automation has been displacing factory workers for many years, but we are now seeing technology replacing the activities that management staff, knowledge workers and customer service professionals were once performing.  Just because current roles are being disrupted, doesn’t mean that the people performing them don’t have the skills and talents to contribute to a company’s future growth.  What it means is that companies need to re-purpose and perhaps re-train these professionals to operate in a data-driven world.

Decision makers still aren’t getting the information they need

The proliferation of technology over the past decade has created a big data problem bigger than anyone ever expected.  What was once a data shortage is now such a large data surplus, that decision makers struggle to separate out the meaningful information from extraneous noise in their environment.  When they feel overwhelmed by the data presented to them, leaders are now ignoring the data and resorting to instinct as the basis for critical decisions.  This approach will not be sustainable very long.

New challenges for the next decade

The challenge facing companies over the next 5-10 years will be figuring out how to use the data that is available to them, refine it into information, and from that information harvest actionable insights to drive decisions.  While technology plays a big role in enabling this transformation, there is a tremendous need for data professionals to interpret data, classify it and put it into the context of business problems that need solving.  This is a role that many former knowledge workers, customer service professionals and managers are well suited – because they understand your company, market, products and customer environment.

Transforming your workforce into data professionals

The keys to developing these workers into data professionals is providing them with access to data, the analysis tools to organize and work with it, and a structured process for data refinement that feeds the decision-making process. Tools and access to data are the easy part, where the workforce skill gap exists is in understanding and performing the data refinement process.  In the past, there has been a special group of employees who understood how to do this. They held titles like data architects, data scientists and business analysts – specialized data management professionals who understood what it takes to work with large amounts of data.  The skills and techniques of these specialists now need to be replicated to the broader workforce to leverage a greater pool of business knowledge and solve a wider breadth of business problems.

Setting your company and employees up for success

The future of work for the next decade will to a large extent be focused managing the data the company has today and helping the organization use data in new ways to solve problems and exploit new opportunities. While many job roles are being disrupted by technology, the people performing them have skills and experience that can create tremendous value for your company if you give them the skills and environment to use them in new ways.  Leaders are starving for real information and actionable insights to drive decisions.  It will be up to the workforce of the future to provide them the information they need.

Kepner-Tregoe is an industry leader in problem-solving, continuous improvement and operational decision-making.  For over 60 years, the experts at KT have been helping companies drive measurable and sustainable improvements through best practices, processes and employee training.

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