Increasing Knowledge Workers or Automating Knowledge Work?
According to the 2010 McKinsey Global survey, “Economic Conditions Snapshot,” knowledge workers have driven more than 70 percent of the economic growth in the U.S. over the past three decades, and 85 percent of the new jobs created in the past decade required complex knowledge skills. Additionally, companies incorporating decision-making as a core competency – even a competitive differentiator – are outperforming their peers.
I would state that all of us in some way are knowledge workers. Even at the most basic level a fundamental understanding of our responsibilities is necessary to perform our jobs, making us all knowledge workers to some extent. Individual knowledge comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s industry expertise, technical, thought leadership, the ability to connect the dots in highly complicated projects, and the list goes on. If we agree with the McKinsey Global survey, then the contribution of highly skilled knowledge workers to the corporate bottom line is ultimately a revenue generator, cost reducer, as well as a competitive differentiator.
Knowledge workers are unique in that they can integrate their own expertise with the data available and transform it to a higher level – a level at which more informed decisions can be made. In many, if not most organizations, it may not be a lack of knowledge workers, but a lack of tools to automate knowledge work making information available in the right context at the right time to the right person.
Regardless if one’s job is repetitive work or requires a highly skilled knowledge worker, tools to facilitate business processes are often lacking. The goal of improved decision making assumes that all the data available to make the decision is trusted, accurate, and relevant. Most organizations can’t state that. For the knowledge worker, the first step is finding the right information – typically via search. At the most basic level this assumes that unstructured and semi-structured content has meaningful metadata associated with it, the search facility can balance precision and recall, can identify similar concepts typically not found, other knowledge workers, projects, outcomes, and collective organizational intelligence regardless of where it resides or how it was ingested. That is the first step in automating knowledge work. My view is until this is accomplished the knowledge worker will never live up to his or her potential as they are hindered by the lack of tools that can deliver more valuable insight.
Since this is our business, I am continually surprised that most organizations, despite the McKinsey report, consider the automation of knowledge work is a ‘soft’ benefit equating it with increased productivity, which is a nebulous quantification at best. Out of curiosity, does your organization place value on ‘knowledge workers’ and what tools do you use to empower your knowledge workers to increase their productivity and share the collective intelligence of the organization?