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The Future of Work: A Practitioner’s Perspective


You can learn a lot by studying the future of work for two years. Our research is your gain.

You can learn a lot by studying the future of work for two years. Our research is your gain.

Over the last two years, more than a dozen Cognizant Business Consulting (CBC) experts studied the future of work. What will influence it, drive it and change it.

In doing so, the team identified eight universal enablers to dictate commerce for the foreseeable future. They are as follows: The value webcustomer empowermentflexible IT deliveryenterprise social mediavirtual collaborationthe boundaryless workplacetransactional commercial models and crowdsourced innovation.

"What did our researchers learn most? ". "What struck me most is that many of our clients asked the same question: 'I like what you are telling me; my organization is grappling with the forces you describe. Tell me who is handling this right and what we can learn from them.," says Gabriel Schild, a CBC partner.

That was difficult to do, Schild adds, because many of the enablers are uncharted territory for many companies. While our series uncovered successful examples of how each enabler can be utilized to deliver the future of work, betting the farm on new ideas can be unsettling.

Figure 1

Jimmy Livingston, a CBC Vice President believes these ideas are difficult for established clients to internalize. "Many of them are stuck in legacy IT environments; underlying infrastructure they built over 30-40 years that don't facilitate the more agile, digital and mobile ways that drive business today."

Meanwhile, tomorrow's competitors will do things very differently than today's. "They'll be using a lot more virtual, mobile and built on cloud-based systems. They won't own a lot of [IT infrastructure], which will increase flexibility and means they will need to partner better."

In other words, it will be easier for born-digital upstarts to excel. For established companies, many are being asked to build a new ship while sailing it, Livingston says. "They become paralyzed by change; caught up in daily operations instead of long-view strategy, so they can't transform to this new world we're in."

Change Isn't Easy

In acknowledgement of that reality, our enabler reports cover executive buy-in strategies to help right the ship. "The future of work necessitates a great deal of change," Livingston concludes. "It requires diligence and determination by leadership... we're seeing a good bit of interest and uptake, particularly in areas of worker empowerment, enabling the workforce using BYOD and customer interaction."

A major research university is one example of where fear of change is being overcome. Using our Future of Work frameworks as a guide and enabler of change, Cognizant Business Consulting helped the university reduce administrative waste and harmonize its hospital system after moving it to a single online instance. "They elected to use a cloud-based solution because of the benefits to overall process optimization, lower cost of ownership and improved workforce outcomes," explains Arlene DeMita, a Senior Practice Director.

They took a leap and benefited, Livingston says.

Another challenge is helping companies treat individual enablers as tools or mechanisms for improvement, not something that's merely acquired, then checked off a list. For instance, getting social media to work for the enterprise.

"The most noticeable thing among all organizations is how they look at social business as an end and not as a means to achieve efficiency," says Jay Chittenipat, Cognizant's Director of Social Collaboration Projects. "For many companies, being social implies they get a social platform and get their entire organization on it."

While that's a good start, "showing up is only part of the journey," Chittenipat adds. "The idea is to use social as a capability; something that integrates with other systems to build better processes and performance. When we consider the social platform as an end, we miss out on these opportunities."

In other words, it's easy to imagine that vibrant communities, like rich traditions, just "happen" over time. Indeed, the phrase "planned community" brings to mind a forced experiment in gated living and awkward social events. But when developing a virtual community, real planning is needed to ensure enough value where you no longer need to incent people to using it; they are drawn in for fear of missing out.

Worker empowerment was another key take-away from the series, according to researchers. For example, many companies insist that "employees are our greatest asset," but combine that with rote work policies, hierarchical governance, outdated digital tools and mandatory office locations or work hours. Such deprecated work environments become especially off putting to millennial talent, Livingston says, since they prioritize performance-based incentives over attendance-based ones.

In addition to outcome-based incentives for employees, the same can be said of strategic partners. They too, can be structured on a transactional basis. Not only does this reduce cost, it incentivizes vendors to improve quality and results as they play a greater ownership role in the emerging virtual value web.

Perhaps the greatest observation of the series, however—if not the most acute reminder—is that today's buyers are enormously informed, always-connected and highly expectant. As such, companies would do well to abandon the linear or channel exclusive shopping experience in favor of an omnichannel approach that respects each buyer as an individual and considers his or her immediate circumstance before engaging them, whether online or off.

In the future of work, the same fundamentals of product selection, price and customer service still apply. But these eight enablers ensure the basics remain relevant in a highly globalized, digitized and mobile world.

For more information, read our Future of Work series or visit Cognizant Business Consulting.

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