Embracing A Digital Workforce In ‘The Age of And’

convergence of human resources and technology
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The old way of bifurcated thinking about resources has been turned on its head as multiple simultaneous disruptions converge. Is your CEO ready?

Our newly published Disruption Index polled 3,000 global business executives, and an overwhelming number indicate they are not effectively using one of their most valuable assets to address a major challenge in the workplace. Nearly half of respondents told AlixPartners they need to leverage technology to increase productivity in the face of worker shortages.

This is as critical now as ever. Even after several years of significant changes, employers should bank on continued significant disruptions to managing the workforce in 2023 and beyond. One major area where we see this is in the ongoing War for Talent, which is being complicated by a recent round of layoffs in the tech industry. While fueling plenty of gloomy headlines, the trend has done little to dent America’s persistent 3.5% unemployment rate and decrease the backlog of 10.7 million unfilled jobs.

This isn’t just a U.S. problem. Some 48% of the Disruption Index global respondents report needing to leverage technology to increase productivity in the face of workforce shortages. Nearly as many said they still encounter a skills gap when trying to recruit.

CEOs need to respond by fostering a critical collaboration that often goes underappreciated or even ignored. Amid shrinking labor pools and constantly shifting demands, the organizational chart needs to rapidly evolve to embrace the increasingly interconnected roles that people and technology play in moving the business forward.

At AlixPartners, we’ve been calling this new organizational chart the “digital workforce.” In this model, technologies such as AI, data lakes, cloud services and cyber security are the key enablers for humans who are constantly stretched to cope with change, process and analyze real-time insights, and innovate.

Many CEOs find it daunting to develop a full vision or understanding of how specifically to integrate technology as a collaborator across the enterprise. The place to start is at the top, with boards of directors understanding the need for close integration, and CEOs driving change from the top down.

Embracing The Age of And

For too long, C-Suites have looked at human resources and technology resources through two entirely separate lenses: HR departments handle people and IT departments manage tech. People are often viewed as transient, while technology investments need to stand the test of time.

We’re now operating in The Age of And where the old way of bifurcated thinking about resources is turned on its head. Multiple simultaneous disruptions—specifically a scarcity of talent, growing digital sophistication and increased availability of technology—are converging. Embracing The Age of And is a priority, not only to empower workers but also to spark collaboration between physical workers and digital workers by incorporating technology as a cohort across all areas of the business, from sales to R&D, manufacturing to finance.

Some examples of this working effectively include:

• Cobotics – people and machines assisting one another in completing tasks that neither could accomplish alone

• Inspection – technologies like computer vision spotting problems that people can’t; people, in turn, guide or correct the technology based on experience

• Healthcare – doctors and AI together interpreting images, lab results, and medical history to customize a treatment plan

• Machine Learning – supply chain experts predicting and preventing outages by collaborating on scenario planning

C-Suites, however, can represent a bottleneck when it comes to unleashing technology’s power to connect. And so can boards of directors. Our Disruption Index found 95% of CEOs have the resources to invest in new technology, but 83% say the board often impedes the process. 

Why don’t executive teams feel empowered? One reason is the CEO is not typically a technologist, and they may shy away from strongly endorsing or embracing digital solutions because they don’t have deep knowledge on how it works. The good news is the CEO, CFO, COO and CHRO don’t need to be experts— they just need to be the enablers.

Envisioning The Digital Workforce

In the Age of And, technology needs to be allowed to play the role of co-worker:

• bridging the gap between older generations and younger generations, or executives and the critical workforce;

• navigating the balancing act of driving day-to-day systems and processes while striving for breakthroughs and innovation; and

• ultimately, transforming the workforce so that employees can both deliver on the C-Suite’s priorities while mapping out a compelling blueprint for the future.

One way to think about the collaborative role technology plays in this process is to complement roles that are traditionally given to human employees or partners to the technology the company is employing.

In the Age of And, data is a supplier, just like your physical suppliers, delivering key raw materials to produce the insights needed to run your business. Cloud serves as a democratizer, putting data, insights and digital products and capabilities in the hands of every employee and customer who needs them. AI steps in as a seer, predicting needs before they happen, responding to inevitable disruptions and avoiding mistakes. Finally, cyber stands guard as the protector, ensuring both the security of a company’s unique DNA and raising preparedness for what’s to come.

There are multiple other ways to think about the organizational chart in the New World. But one common thread we see is this: Senior leadership vastly underutilizes the resources available to them because they fail to appreciate the power of collaboration between the human and the digital. Whether it is the underutilization of groundbreaking innovations, such as smart factories and digital twins, or a misunderstanding of how to comprehensively harness the wealth of structured and unstructured data available to every company, ignoring the power of a digital workforce leads to missed opportunities.

It is ironic—and ultimately inexcusable—for companies to be operating in an age where the workforce is not seamlessly working alongside technology. Think about how effectively we allow data, the cloud, machine learning and other technology to make our lives easier in everyday life. AI is helping us navigate the commute, populate a dinner party playlist or learn second languages.

If you’re wondering how technology can be as helpful in the workplace as it is in everyday life, now is the time to answer that question.

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