We hardly ever wonder, how we, the hunter-gatherers living in temporary shelters have evolved to built mega cities of the modern world. The physical infrastructure supporting modern life took years of construction and maintenance. The workers have toiled for ages to build a sustainable infrastructure to support and enhance the human experience.
In last few decades, the physical infrastructure proved insufficient to fulfill the growing needs of human society, thus paving way for the development of a digital ecosystem to boost and in some cases replace the existing infrastructure.
The smart cities are built on the efforts of a new age digital workforce. As per KPMG, the current knowledge worker economy is estimated to employ 240 million at USD 9 trillion or 27% of global employment cost. It is estimated that digital technologies will automate almost half of the currently performed activities by 2025, with the productivity of USD 5.5 to 6.4 trillion in equivalent labor.
The oblivious knowledge worker is unable to fathom the rapidly changing dynamics of the digital ecosystem with his obscure vision.
Division of Digital Labor:
The Industrial Revolution exploded the rate of development of physical infrastructure. The competing human societies diversified their skill set to meet the ever-growing demand. The largest impact of Industrial Revolution was increased division of labor, which bought specialization, which enhanced productivity.
Similarly, the Digital Revolution has triggered division of digital labor into groups with specific skills and knowledge of specific tools. The division of digital labor has increased production, improved quality and reduced time to market for software products. Market economy promotes efficiency and division of labor facilitates efficiency. The various business across the spectrum are migrating to digital to remain competitive. In this intense race, specialized digital labor gives them the desired horsepower they need to stay ahead.
The Oblivious knowledge worker has to be vigilant about the new roles mushrooming in the digital space. He has to compartmentalize the responsibilities, develop skills and learn tools to fit in the new role. The worker in a specific role does not operate insulated. He compliments other workers in different roles thereby diluting the boundaries of roles at times to achieve the common goal. Thus the worker with a holistic perspective of the story has a better understanding of his role in context to the big picture.
Karl Marx in his famous work Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 has argued otherwise. He said, “the division of labor renders him ever more one-sided and dependent, bringing with it the competition not only of men but also of machines. Since the worker has sunk to the level of a machine, he can be confronted by the machine as a competitor”. His apprehension proves to be rational in the times of robotic automation when mundane tasks and narrow skills are in danger of extinction. The oblivious worker should progressively add new skills to his arsenal in order to remain relevant in times of automation.
Division of Intent:
There is another facet of the division of digital labor introduced by the increased layering in software applications and solutions. Each layer should be built by workers with different intent to convert innovative ideas into quality products running on a wide portfolio of hardware. The new digital age has embarked mutation of mechanical and electronic machines into software embedded utilities.
The user’s interaction with apps is not limited to laptops and mobile devices anymore, it has proliferated to watch, home appliances, car, to name a few. The time spent interacting with software is distributed among the user’s hardware portfolio. The divided digital labor working at different layer helps in realizing pervasive computing, where the idea is transformed into ubiquitous software, available to the user across different platforms. The oblivious worker needs to understand the idiosyncrasies of a worker deployed at a specific layer.
Platform workers: Platform is an environment in which the code executes. It provides an abstraction to application developer at different levels of hardware, OS(Operating System) and runtime libraries. A platform worker is closely acquainted with hardware components and operating system internals. This class of software worker needs to have a holistic view of the system to equip the apps to squeeze the last drop of computational power. Their agenda is to make the platforms ubiquitous, empowering the developers to run the same app across the hardware spectrum.
Framework workers: A software framework provides a standard methodology to build and deploy apps. Every framework adheres to certain principles and so it brings peculiar nature to the apps developed using the framework.
The workers developing a framework like support programs, compilers, code libraries, application programming interface(APIs) consider creating reusable components that smoothly to fits in custom code and is easy to train on for the first time application workers. The framework workers craft framework components with best coding practices and design principles. The application worker using the framework are forced to adhere to coding standards by design, not by choice.
Application workers: Applications or apps are perceptible elements of functionality that are leveraged by the user. They are written for different platforms like Android, Windows, iOS, World Wide Web. The software workers at this layer should work to rapidly transform business requirements into a workable piece of code. The idiosyncrasy of application workers is ‘Agility’. Their agility gives the business layer flexibility of requirement change and architects of technology change on the move. They are empowered by tools, frameworks, development kits to deliver quality, maintainable and extensible code.
The Robotic Renaissance:
The Industrial Revolution saw the rise of machines like “Flying Shuttle”, “Spinning Jenny”, “Steam Engine” and others to reduce labor, improve efficiency and increase production. The craftsmen were driven out of business and were later forced to work in the same factories. The products were manufactured faster and at much larger scale.
The oblivious knowledge worker is experiencing a similar competition from an upsurge in automation. The robotic process automation has embarked on its journey of automation at the presentation layer. At this layer, it aims to automate redundant and mundane tasks that are pattern based. The bots are learning to replicate low skill human tasks like customer service, data entry, the first layer of troubleshooting. The products like Blue Prism, UIPath, AutomationAnywhere have initiated the first wave of automation of rule-based tasks thus reducing the value proposition of business process outsourcing companies.
The proliferation of automation is not limited to low skill jobs only, the fusion of cognitive intelligence and process automation challenges even the highly skilled knowledge workers. The learning bots trained in cognitive skills will be able to identify patterns in processes and automate them without human intervention, the art called “process mining”. The outsourcing and offshore model of business will be under pressure from automation forces.
The current factory system in digital industry following the “assembly line” approach where each worker is concentrated on only a specific repetitive and monotonous task will crack in the wind of automation. The knowledge workers will reskill to perform more innovative tasks. The modern startup system, in which a small group of knowledge workers working on innovative solutions or building core competency, will challenge the monolithic factory systems. This will usher an era of mergers and acquisitions, thus synthesizing small groups with diverse core competencies.
The enlightened knowledge worker will not be oblivious anymore. He will strive to discern his role, build advanced competencies, narrow down potent problems and build innovative solutions. The enlightened knowledge workers will build the smart world of the present knowledge age.