Flavio Palaci, chief product and digital transformation officer at MBO Partners, a Herndon, Virginia-based company that provides a digital marketplace for businesses and independent professional talent to connect with one another, has a message for tech leaders: don’t forget to focus on the humans.
From new workplace setups to artificial intelligence to how to get the most out of your talent, the critical factor, says Palaci, is the people involved. Palaci spoke with StrategicCIO360 about what tomorrow’s workplace will look like, “superminds” and the biggest mistake CIOs make when it comes to labor platforms.
Covid-19 has accelerated the evolution of a new workforce that features remote, independent and digital nomad workers. How should companies adapt?
Transitioning to a fully remote workforce was done by necessity during the pandemic. This forced change accelerated a slow-moving modernization of how work gets done. However, as we return to work in the new normal, organizations must adapt in areas far beyond simply where people work. We must rethink how work is done.
Thinking differently includes re-evaluating legacy roles and assessing the titles and skillsets that are truly necessary for effectively running your business. A modern business model involves strategic engagement of full-time employees and external workers in all shapes, including offshore, ideally in a targeted and pre-planned mix in order to have the right capabilities at the right time.
Many companies are also operating on shorter cycle times and project-based work rather than fixed. Companies seek access to an extended workforce, allowing them to transform their workforce and access and attract top talent who bring a competitive perspective to their organizations. Optimizing the workforce in this way creates greater agility to respond to new market opportunities and deliver on brand promises.
What role will AI play in the future of work?
With the rise of AI, it’s easy to focus just on the cognitive algorithmic side and ignore the human component of the equation. However, the most promising uses of AI will not involve computers replacing people, but rather people and computers working together—as “superminds”—to do both cognitive and physical tasks that could not be done before. Automation can do repetitive work allowing us to optimize the deeper skillsets of our workers. Utilizing AI as a complement will create jobs and help companies to realize higher levels of productivity.
We are seeing industries rise at an unprecedented pace. For example, the electric mobility revolution requires skills that the mobility/automotive industry simply did not attract or require five to seven years ago. There is a huge focus on the user experience at the heart of how vehicles are designed and with automation, how they are driven. In retail, we see a shift into hyper automation as the industry moves into the realm of “predictive shipping” sensing everything and getting items to your door before you click.
However, while cognitive models improve with the deep sensing of data, we require the inclusion of humans at key steps in the value chain to deliver unrivaled experiences that will delight consumers. The combination of algorithmic capital and human capital will enable companies to truly sense everything and provide addictive interactions that consumers love.
What are common mistakes technology leaders make with respect to labor platforms in general?
Labor platforms cover a wide range of interactions across the human capital market. Most companies are struggling with finding the right talent at the right time and keeping talent engaged. At the same time the talent experience is often quite poor, so there’s a disconnect there.
Currently, the market is extraordinarily human resource intensive, meaning that it takes a lot of human effort to manage, so the opportunity for automation is huge. That’s why we’re seeing so much investment and so many products in the space. The biggest mistake I see companies making in building or deploying labor platforms is they rush to automate processes that don’t work very well in the first place, which usually increases friction.
You really need to focus on solving for experience across the value chain, which requires rethinking many of the steps we assume are necessary for finding and engaging talent. For example, providing managers with automation to help formulate their needs in clear ways and curating and serving data on the “knownness” of talent leads to a faster and better fit.
In addition, SaaS platforms cannot be deployed successfully without a cultural shift within the organization. This change process is often underestimated by companies, and they don’t sufficiently drive the behavior changes necessary to realize the benefits of a platform.
What is the No. 1 thing CIOs and CTOs can do to better prepare for the future of work?
Do not underestimate the difficulty in building high performing product and engineering squads. Do not be afraid to experiment and push yourself to build multidisciplinary squads that bring in other parts of the organization for certain features or sprints. Many companies still cannot quantify the value that each squad brings—measuring the features they build rather than measuring the market they build.
Mobility will drive more asynchronous communication from video to chat, which will mean companies need to think about the experiences they create for their employees and extended workforce. The tools your company provides must be comprehensive but also integrated, and enhancing the experience of every single worker is key. The real challenge for IT is providing experience parity for all talent—full time, part time or independent—working in various and hybrid locations. This means not only enabling all your workers to find individual ways of working that drive productivity and innovation anytime, anywhere—but improving their well-being and quality of life as well.