Feature Story

The Digital Workforce, ‘Augmented Humanity’, and the Future of Work

Ray Wang says smarter systems will help the future workforce take pain out of consumer interactions.

Constellation Research founder Ray Wang foresees change not just for CIOs and IT, but for the way work fundamentally gets done.

Culture, physical space, and work processes are all affected by the rise of artificial intelligence and other digital technologies. Here, Wang tells Executive Editor Stefanie McCann how executives should be thinking about the future of work.

Ray Wang photo Ray Wang of Constellation Research

Connected Futures: Digital is changing our lives, from how we interact with one another to how we engage at work. How do you see digital affecting the way we work in the not too distant future?

Ray Wang: I think the biggest impact is a concept we call augmented humanity and that's when digital systems play a role in helping you figure out the next best action.

I take calls from the customer. Augmented humanity pops in and says “Look, these are the ten most angry customers on the queue right now.” We've got to make sure we're on with them in the next 30 seconds, because they're also the highest value customers.

How do we set that up and make sure the smartest people are on the other end who don't try to cross sell them something in the middle of a customer complaint?

All these little things are going to make us better at our job. It's the little actions - what we call contextual decisions - augmented humanity is going to help us with.

How is that going to change the culture within an organization?

The immediate impact is that we'll figure out what we're really good at, and what we're really not good at. And we're not good at repetitive tasks. Those are the things we're going to automate the crap out of. Why would you go through the same painful invoice process, when you can automate that?

Do you see physical space changing?

Where we work, when we work, how we work, what we work, even why we work are all changing.

If we really get to autonomous vehicles, you're going to be working in your car, just like another pod. It's like working on the plane.

If we think about the way collaboration will work, you might just check in to a mixed reality center - an augmented reality, virtual reality center where it feels like you're standing next to the [remote] person you're talking to. You're going to be drawing on surfaces; you might draw in the air and it will show up on someone else's surface. I can see easily all of that within the next three to four years.

How should the CIO approach this future of work?

There's five generations of digital workers — and they're not classified by age. We make assumptions that ‘digital natives’ are going to be millennials or younger, and that's not where it is.

There's a concept called digital proficiency, which talks about how well you know the technology and how likely you will use the technology. Digital natives start out in digital form all the time. They start out with a tablet, they don't take paper to a meeting, they type on their laptop or their phone.

I volunteer in retirement homes and folks in their 80s, holy crap — they're typing away, they're texting, they're showing pictures with each other, they're bugging you at work with an IT support question. They're there, they're active. They're the digital natives.

Now, digital immigrants. They're writing notes on paper and pencil, they're not typing it in. You look at a meeting, there are people with the little binders and those notebooks with pens. I'm like “who are these people?” They're all ages.

Then we have folks who are digital voyeurs: They love the technology, they understand it, they're not ready to jump in. We have to be kind with them.

Then we have digital holdouts. Those guys don't care, they don't want to talk to you about it, they're not interested.

Then we have folks we call digitally disengaged. They were the folks that were early adopters, they showed you every cool tool, every cool app and three years ago they stopped. They stopped cold turkey. They pay in cash, they avoid video cameras.

Once again, all types of ages in these groups.

Change management [with awareness of these different groups] is huge.

(Editor's note: Also see Cisco's research findings on the Future of Work.)