The Future of Management in a Tech-Intensive World

Going by definitions, which are necessary but really aren’t that popular, we know management to be a job function or task set that is responsible for planning, coordinating, enabling and control of activities within the organisation. Mintzberg saw it as a cluster or roles that have to be assumed. All allude to a science of effort – at least in theory. Management has not yet been recognised as a profession in many of our jursidictions.

From a practical viewpoint, it is even less structured, since we see management as a position within organsiations, not a profession or specific skill set – with good reason; being a position, anyone sitting in that coveted spot (the corner office?) is a manager, regardless of whether that individual has any of the required abilities to [plan, coordinate, enable and control] or not. In fact, I have seen in some instances the only real skill being brought to the management position is complete compliance with those higher up the ladder. No room for planning etc. here – you have one job, and that is to tow the line.

Notwithstanding, the role or task-set spans the the entire gamut of planning through control, and manifests within organisation indifferent layers across the various functional and location divisions – straddling in each the layers of supervisory, management and executive positions. These we have heard in the context of operational, tactical and strategic level issues, in ascending degrees of importance respectively (if we go by the accompanying remuneration as a guide).

In terms of management roles today into tomorrow, we are seeing more and more the diffusion of intelligence technologies playing a supporting and in a growing number of instances an ‘advisory’ role to managers’ job functions and task-requirements. Our enterprise-wide applications are able to share information in a process that renders time and location irrelevant. The emergence of drone and robotic automation processes within operational functions is encroaching on large segments of supervisory roles. Programmed flags or notifications against established performance standards are rendering reporting and human intervention in the process of supervision comparatively expensive, inefficient and to a large extent unnecessary. It is driving firms to be flatter and leaner in their operating structures today. And that was only the beginning.

Looking ahead, the advent of Big Data, Analytics, Business Intelligence or any other term used to refer to data-intensive artificial intelligence, is poised to only amplify this trend, and distill the diffusion of technology further upwards through the layers of management-oriented positions. That software can on one part compile, collate and articulate data from various divisions in incomparable time is profound, and on the other part personalise and customise communication to various individuals – again in real time – on demand, is equally important to note. The supporting infrastructural developments – cloud and mobile computing in particular – are poised to deliver this intelligence to central decision makers as required. In fact, automated reporting posits a degree of consistency that is rarely emulated by human beings.

The computer-based learning systems – typically algorithms today – are moving into the space of assessing data, making decisions, executing automated functions based on the decisions, providing further detail and information access to persons using the system, and recording (and reporting) on performance and exceptions.
So how can this work in the management arena? In a pool of 5000 job applicants, a software can filter academic qualifications and performance, past experience, social media activities and other data streams to short-list candidates. It can provide online, remote simulations to prospective candidates and rank them accordingly. It can drive the orientation and training components to which candidates are exposed. With a pool of historical data on performance of different persons on a variety of tasks, an algorithm can select the best persons for the performance of a particular job based on their past experiences and performance on related tasks. Work schedules, performance registers and quota management are all automated computerised systems with which the candidate can interact and report. Meetings are already virtual, and the supporting documentation and ‘tangibles’ are accessible synchronously or asynchronously by anyone with approved access (Access is automatically assigned by employee rank and job description).

Financial, information access and even facility resources can be allocated (or booked) automatically on job assignment per candidate. Their performances are tracked by a system against milestones and comparative benchmarks. Bonuses, penalties and issuing of payments can be automatically configured and channel resources to the supporting structures (perhaps an employee’s bank account or company-issued credit card). At any (every?) point throughout execution the response expectations and projections based on the established plans and objectives (and environmental conditions) can be evaluated and adjusted – with the resulting changes communicated to the affected staff on their mobile devices.

All this to say that there are many management-centric functions which are being supported (or driven) by technology today. Which would be good news for larger organisations seeking to become more agile and responsive to market dynamics. It is also expected to be welcomed by entrepreneur-led and small and growing enterprises, if Greiner’s challenges throughout his Life Cycle Model is anything to go by. Firms facing severe shortage of skilled labour, or economies with an ageing workforce would also stand to benefit from this trend.
However, the shift is expected to be gradual from all indications. And it is currently difficult to see it as a replacement entirely – what with issues of diversity, capta, intuition and creativity still being core human tasks within management (or any) job functions. Yet from considering the tasks associated with management functions and the deployment of technology, the relationship seems set to become only more intertwined.

I wonder if IBM’s Watson would agree?


Beyond the Science of Leadership

“Art is a higher type of knowledge than experience”

~ Aristotle – Metaphysics ~

Here’s an unusual challenge: Create a poem with the subject matter being on Nature and our Environment. The poem must comprise 17 syllables in 3 lines, allocated into 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second and 5 in the third. Do you accept this challenge? The resulting product – known as Japanese ‘Haiku’ – is a form of poetry that can cause the inductee some challenge to rhythm and rhyme before the creative juices begin to flow.

If you are not too inclined to this form of art, and prefer a more hands-on challenge, we only need look at the ‘Food’ channels on our televised media to see instances of chef competitions and challenges where the creativity is tested with the additional restrictions of limited ingredients or within a specific culinary theme. It may be in the form of challenges centred around 1 key ingredient, or rather one of specific ingredients that may not work together conceptually – but that is what the chefs are given to work with and the time starts now.

Many of the persons undertaking these challenges title themselves artists who are able to not only work with what is given but transcend limitations in order to create their own tributes. So too for us – having mastered the science of our respective discipline – each challenge which we face allows the artist in us to develop and mature; each project a canvas to which we are allowed the opportunity to paint with our own abilities and from our perspectives. Over time, our every effort becomes a stroke of varying intensity and colour that fills the canvas of our career, inspired by passion and sculpted with soul, shaping the object of our attention and affection towards our version of excellence.

As artists operating within our own professions, we too will be tried and tested in different ways and by different parameters. Be it an oversupply of information, an unavailability of resources or inefficient work-ethic, each parameter sets a boundary that can be seen as an insurmountable inconvenience or as an obstacle that, once overcome, can leave a lasting hue of dazzling brilliance. This ability would be more valuable in more restricted environments, and with increasing regulatory frameworks and compliance specifications, may in fact prove critical to sustainability if not growth.

As leaders of artists and as artists ourselves, the challenge is amplified and arresting. We need to ensure that our artists are able to function – with the resources that are necessary, with the skill to create, and with the will to perform even where there are challenges and obstacles. Our contribution to the operating environment (and our own work of art) is much more elemental – demanding the ability to manage (all) resources and efforts directed toward a vision of the future as well as the delicate ability to inspire the artist to function – to ignite the passion that would engulf entire initiatives and effect a lingering afterglow of achievement.

This is not effortless by any means, since obstacles can deter as much as it can entice, ourselves as leaders as much as those whom we lead. As artists, effective performance requires our own passion and dedication to stay the course, despite any obstacles or limitations that may surface. It draws on our creativity and ability to visualise hidden paths that can lead us out of tribulation. As leaders of artists, we must be cognizant of what our reports envision themselves, enunciate and draw upon for inspiration. Equally of importance, we need to know what the requirements are that our artists would need in order to create. Where there are debilitating limitations an open consideration of the complexity of reality can serve to exact resolve and draw upon the individual creativity of each artist even as it serves to strengthen resolve.

Our professionals of today stand to benefit from the artistic approach to their disciplines – one that would engender creativity and innovative responses to manifest boundaries and limitations. The basis is the dedication to a profession, the drive to transcend the science of the discipline and realise their unique contributions that can be offered to the craft. And where this is attainable, the leader as the artist can his/herself offer a contribution to the leadership arts that would auger to the benefit of all individuals, and the organisation as a whole – as his/her own work of art. Great art, as attested by Huneker, as “an instant arrested in eternity.”

Tech Leaders and Business Strategy – An Ambiguous Relationship

Within this past decade the spotlight has shone brightly on technology and its contributions to industry and society – revealing both positive and negative propensities in its development and deployment. Greater surgical precision a la robotics is countered by cyber-espionage and privacy apertures at international levels. Alongside these is the consumerization of technology – exacerbated by the Internet of Everything, as it were. The economy was not exempt, as the expectations arising from focused investment in national infrastructure and human capital is tempered by ‘the rise of the machine age’ – at the leading edge being lights out manufacturing and the accompanying jobless growth.

In this context it comes as no surprise that Steve Case, co-founder of AOL cum entrepreneur at the 2015 SXSW alluded to the third Internet age – which he predicts would serve to ‘accelerate disruption across all industries’ – driven in part by (r)evolution in capital and social landscapes – which will force companies to ‘adapt or die’. Dramatic? Maybe. Excessive? Well, in the casino of competitiveness, would you be willing to bet your firm on it?

 We cannot dispute the fact that the technology today is ‘disrupting market leadership’ as Porter said. Nor can we argue against its contributions on the emergence of new businesses and business processes, alongside expanding opportunities which we fully expect to be reflected in the top and bottom line values. As Marakas and O’Brien put it, ‘technology is no longer an afterthought in forming business strategy, but the actual cause and driver’. The expectations are that information systems and technology deployed within and throughout an organisation is expected to contribute to efficient business operations; enterprise-wide collaboration and more effective decision-making; and in tandem aid in no small way to make the firm more customer-driven, responsive, and generally deliver customer value centred on quality more than price or location.

Herein lays the pretty paradox. Firms are waking up to what is becoming more possible through technology, and are investing more in an attempt to realise these possibilities. Not so the function that is charged with harnessing this resource and unleashing it upon the competitive landscape. Remarkably under-resourced (after all, IT investments already account for a large share of the budget), the IT department has to get by as operations support – a caddy, if you will – and in many cases report to a cost-containment executive, charged with keep the lights on while the core business makes rain. It should come as no surprise then that projects are over scope, often fail to deliver, layers of applications sit idly by as real-time technology supports inefficient processes, and somehow training sessions on solution roll-out become exploratory discussions on workflows, with users – initially being propelled by waves of change – find themselves in a whirlpool of wonderment and despair.

This context is exacerbated by the imposition of more layers of isolation by the IT department – a help desk, a ticketing system and remote administration all serve to spur on the queries as to whether humans work in the department at all. We hear of arguments that IT does not understand the business, and counter arguments that it’s the line that has to drive change, all of which makes for entertaining meetings and underwhelming results.

To overcome this hurdle, as George Colony (CEO of Forrester Research) put it, ‘the CIO has to be a great teacher’. This extends to not only signalling to the line the current and emerging possibilities, but also digest the business strategy and craft a response that fully leverages available or applicable technology. To be clear, this goes beyond keeping the lights on. As Steve Olive (CIO of Raytheon Defence) says, ‘consistently reliable and excellent IT service should be a given. What businesses need and IT should be providing are innovative solutions to business challenges.’

What this requires is firstly effective management capability by our IT leadership. The ability to assess, plan and execute in line with business goals and objectives would serve to eliminate the cost-containment filter that tempers possible IT development. It requires a core management focus that is applied to technology as a resource. But this is not an easy feat, moving from graduates who are essentially information engineers, more adept with the mechanics of information management and technology engagement than its business applications. Consider the view that undergraduates from Computer Science departments, or practitioners with professional certifications harbour a thorough understanding of the operational continuity of the function predominantly – those who were able to make that transition demonstrate a much more broad-based exposure than core IT operations.

The second tier of development is the evolution of core IT management to the strategic level, wherein it not only maps the resource to business strategy as a whole and at the various functional executing agents, but is able to craft offensive and defensive business strategy that directly engages competitive rivalry and levers of competitiveness to propel the organisation forward. Armed with new products, aimed at new markets, and bound by data-driven decisions and a learning organisation, this level of contribution realises value-driven results within, throughout and beyond the boundaries of the firm and extending to suppliers, customers and partners. The net effect is an organisation fully-equipped today to redefine market leadership tomorrow, driven by IT Leadership 2.0.

Steve Case (SXSW 2015) predicts the Internet’s third age wherein entire sectors would undergo radical innovation due to technology diffusion and disruption. We agree. We are already working to create it.

March 2015

On Purpose: Leveraging Our Personal Strengths

We are unique in our identity as we are in purpose.

Our identity is based on the generic construct of our unique ancestors, compounded by our own experiences, and interpretations thereof, as we journey through life. These all converge in our minds to provide us the lens through which we view the world and our place in it. And thus we craft our purpose that may enable us to demonstrate our distinction and contribute to our conviction in this great medley we call society.

Our purpose is infinitely more ambiguous (relative to identity), and in one sense all we know is our presence as the effect of the copulation of our parents and their ancestors. But this answers more HOW we happen to be here than the more important WHY.

In the grand design we may never truly understand our purpose of being – it may well have been to directly uplift persons from a disadvantaged or oppressed position; as it may have been to prepare the world to receive another; or to embody or exemplify what should not be done, and thereby remind another of the folly of an act or pattern of behaviour. History alone would vindicate our contribution in this regard.

At another level, we have a purpose of doing – a driving force that shapes our interpretation of our environment and our responses to the changes therein. A primary motivator, this purpose can be identified by inspiration or situation. Regardless of how our purpose is revealed to us, we must be open to accepting it into the very fabric of our being – to let it infuse every cell of our bodies and every synapse of our brain.

Our purpose must become our soul – that gives direction to our efforts. It is easy to classify this purpose as our motivation in its conventional sense, yet this purpose is deeper than, and may even contradict our motivations and aspirations.

This purpose of doing is more akin to our sense of duty – what are those things for which we will be held accountable – either in this and/or the next world.

How can we find purpose? Do we choose it or it chooses us? Our purpose of being may be crystal clear to use or we may exhaust our lives (even those of others) and may never know. Our purpose of doing is informed by that ever-present dichotomy of our unique gifts as human beings and those situations in which we find ourselves. In any circumstance, we can either utilize our gifts for the benefit of ourselves and/or others – this balance we alone can set – or learn from the situation and build armour to contribute more significantly in the future: there is no punishment, since the looming Day of Reckoning or Judgment us yet to come to pass.

What are our gifts then? As a species, our collective gift is that of freedom to choose – not what we face as we perpetually move closer to our demise – but rather how we respond to those situations which we are given to face – the ever-evolving realities that entrust their sacred lessons to our care. All humans are given this gift, wrapped in a burst of colour and textures, scents and sounds that we appropriately call the present. This gift defines us collectively, and one that we bestow the same courtesy on as any other gift, engendering with care even as we savour its character.

Beyond this, subjectivity reigns. A gift is as valuable as its worth to whom it is bestowed. IT may be only skin deep, an ease to behold if not a pleasure. For others it may be wit, mirth or courage. Yet others may be entrusted with intellect or wisdom that they may guide. Others still may be happy dependents who bestow love, care and gleams of admiration that fuels the fires of our passion.

And what if our gifts cannot enable us to reach our goals – that which we aspire to own or achieve? Gifts are given to us to do with as we choose…

But Know! Under-utilisation or use for only frivolous or selfish ends will ensure that these gifts do not linger in their departure – but rather dissipate into a realm that we may never know or can never reach. It becomes that drop that escapes our clutches and falls into the sea – which we may never again taste of its succulence.

May our purpose mold our identity, and provide a beacon toward which we sail, beyond storms and calm seas.