Wednesday, July 07, 2021

The Future of Managers

Managers must explain a lot of things.  Early in my career I managed a team of six IT experts responsible for EDI and other forms of business-to-business data exchanges with suppliers.  Our data, from planning and manufacturing systems, was shared with our suppliers' to support the just-in-time manufacturing of electronics.  Our senior leadership would often ask us to defend our data, yet we often struggled to explain where it originated from or how the numbers were generated.  The data we were using came from a figurative "black box."  We received it without explanation.  That of course was an untenable position for a manager.

In the near future managers will increasingly depend on artificial intelligence for assistance, and hopefully it will be explainable AI to avoid the challenges I faced.  Explainable AI (XAI) is artificial intelligence in which the results, and the logic and data used, can be understood by humans.  Understanding how the system works is critical to establishing trust.  

As AI becomes integrated into more and more businesses and IT systems, the role it plays will become ever more critical.  Any questions about why an AI system made a particular decision or took an action must be able to be quickly deciphered, explained and adjusted if necessary.  Having trust in the AI system is a critical first step for managers to open up and use it for an expanding list of tasks.

AI systems, implemented correctly can be a manager's right hand.  Common benefits of AI are:
  • Reduced human errors
  • Is available 24x7x365
  • Can complete mundane, repetitive and routine administrative work without distraction
  • Can scale
  • Can make faster decisions, and take faster actions based upon established business processes 
  • Can find solutions and innovations faster by analyzing patterns within oceans of data
In a report by HBR, it was found that 54% of a manager's time is usually spent on administrative tasks - tasks well suited for AI assistance.  If AI can take over these tasks it could free up managers to spend more time on the things humans are best at including applying their knowledge of organizational history and culture, empathy, ethical reflection, judgement, creativity, experiments, innovation, strategy, discretion, experience and improvisation. 

In the HBR report there are five pieces of advice for managers of the future:
  1. Leave administration to AI
  2. Focus on judgement work
  3. Treat intelligent machines/agents as colleagues
  4. Work like a designer
  5. Develop your social skills and networks
I can imagine a scenario in the near future where there will be an organizational chart of robots, robot workers, managers and robot executives.  Each using XAI to explain how they are managing the robots, tasks and operations under their responsibility.  I guess that means we humans will need to figure that out first.

Read more on AI here:
Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.