Why cognitive business operations will change how you work

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What does it mean for a business to get things done? How does it channel the energy and activities of all its knowledge workers as they work?

Fundamentally, any work that needs to be done is identified by defining the needs and scope of a project. We coordinate resources—materials, knowledge and people—and then we do the work at the required scale. However, the way we manage this work continues to evolve.

How has the way people work changed over time?
Initially, we coordinated work by word of mouth: someone told you what to do, and you, as the worker, did it. To scale that up, we wrote paper manuals so more people could get more work done. This is the realm of unmanaged work.

Then, we found a better way to automate manuals and track tasks, so work morphed into something that was more investigative and unstructured. This is the managed work category and it’s where we stand today. However, to improve on productivity and really take advantage of dark data, we must now move into a new age of cognitive assisted work. Automation will be transformed and new patterns of augmentation and discovery will change how we work.

Why will cognitive be the next big thing for operating your business?
To appreciate the opportunity that cognitive presents, we need to step back about 250 years to consider the Industrial Revolution. Something very special happened for the first time in human endeavor when people harnessed steam power. Suddenly, factories sprung up, and people were physically able to do more—beyond what their physical muscles enabled. Human productivity skyrocketed and the overall quality of life for everyone improved.

The same phenomenon occurred when people mastered electricity around 1870. Massive electrification of towns and the advancement from steam power to electric power dramatically improved how people lived once again. Coupled with gasoline engines and mass production techniques, the electrification era took human productivity to new heights.

Fast-forward another 100 years and the early IT revolution was beginning in the 1970s. There was a powerful shift evident even back then—great advances were moving from physical muscle to mental muscle. With the computational power available from mainframes and then PCs, people were able to change the game again in terms of white-collar work productivity.

Through the past three industrial revolutions, human productivity was in an overall upward trajectory. At least it was until about a decade ago when it flattened out, despite all the innovation with early cloud, mobile and other digital technologies. Since there hasn’t been critical mass in terms of complementary technologies until now, there hasn’t been a productivity pop to lift everyone up like steam or electricity did in the past.

The difficult knowledge work that we do today hasn’t been made fundamentally easier—yet. This will all change with the cognitive era and its associated complementary technologies. And that is what will make up the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
In part 2 of this series, you’ll see why cognitive is the key to new levels of human productivity and the new competencies that will take work to the next level.

To learn more about cognitive business operations, visit here.


Program Director, Offering Management, IBM Digital Business Automation

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