You’ll Soon Need a Digital Labor Specialist and a Workforce Shaper

Not all your employees will be replaced by robots, but it’s highly likely they’ll be working side-by-side with an automated device at some point in their careers.

As intelligent automation becomes more common in the workplace, businesses are automating specific tasks associated with a job, but they’re not automating the entire job. Work increasingly is being divided between tasks performed by humans and other tasks carried out by machines.

While it may seem like HR departments need to start preparing for Automation Armageddon, the far more likely scenario is that they’ll soon be put in charge of managing a workforce comprised of both humans and “machines,” that are actually digital or software assistants.

This, by the way, is consistent with a recent report by the independent research firm, Forrester Research, Inc., which forecast that automation will change every job category by a least 25%.

The impact of these changes is already being felt across many HR functions – from performance management to learning and development – and even creating the need for new jobs that don’t exist today. Just as no one in 1999 would have imagined an entire job dedicated to managing a Twitter account, HR departments will soon find themselves creating new positions responsible for integrating intelligent automation into the workforce.

HR’s new Digital Labor Specialist

A digital labor specialist will be responsible for minimizing autonomous duplication while maximizing uptake. Essentially, the specialist will conduct an audit of all technology systems or tools being used across the enterprise to identify overlap. For example, a healthcare company might unknowingly be using multiple records management systems across various departments that are different tools but completing the same tasks. With dozens of systems and platforms to choose from, a siloed approach can lead to higher costs, risks, and inefficiencies. The digital labor specialist will determine which tool to keep in place and how to roll it out across both departments.

He or she will also work closely with IT to determine the right technical solutions for new organizational or departmental needs and ensure that there is no duplication throughout the organization. The goal is to cut costs, and create efficiencies while also ensuring function specific compliance and legal requirements are met.

The Workforce Shaper

The workforce shaper, on the other hand, will be responsible for the next generation of workforce planning. The workforce shaper acts as an on demand resource to the business that builds a workforce for the business based on available labor, both human and digital.

This role requires a deep understanding of automation solutions, an appreciation of business requirements and an understanding of workforce analytics and utilization. He or she will find the right balance between permanent and flexible talent and understand the long-term requirement for people and skills within a business. Acting as the connective tissue between business imperatives, innovation strategy, and employees, the workforce shaper will also identify existing skills gaps and develop talent to meet business needs now and in the future.

In addition to developing the workforce, another responsibility will be ensuring  that employees are efficient in their jobs and are utilizing the right technologies. For example, the workforce shaper can suggest implementing a technical solution that completes “busy work” such as inventory management so an employee can spend more time analyzing data and making strategic decisions. Working hand-in-hand with the digital labor specialist, the workforce shaper will help re-define the work to be performed by humans and automated devices.

Redefining HR’s role

Beyond their individual responsibilities, the digital labor specialist and workforce shaper also will have an important advisory role in redefining other aspects of HR management. In learning and development, for example, they’ll need to recommend and help design training programs for both front-line employees who are interacting with machines and for their managers who must now oversee both machines and humans.

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They will also play a role in re-examining performance management metrics. How will we measure output and productivity in a blended human and digital workforce? And what other changes in organizational structures, HR policies and work practices will be required in such a workplace? The digital labor specialist and workforce shaper are in a unique position to contribute valuable perspective on all these questions.

In turn, the creation of these new jobs raises another important organizational issue: where do these positions reside within the enterprise – within HR or IT? There are arguments to be made on both sides of this question. Indeed, it remains an open issue in a number of organizations.

While there’s always the possibility that this issue becomes a source of divisiveness, we see it as an opportunity for collaboration. Both the CIO and CHRO have many of the same objectives of adding value to the organization. As these two divisions become more blended, this is an opportunity for them to come together to shape a common vision for how humans and machines will collaborate within the enterprise. This vision will then determine how they re-define departmental responsibilities, how they implement new roles like the digital labor specialist and workforce shaper and, ultimately, how they collaborate in making this vision a reality.