If stepping up is your chosen approach, you will probably need a long education. A master’s degree or a doctorate will serve you well as a job applicant. Once inside an organization, your objective must be to stay broadly informed and creative enough to be part of its ongoing innovation and strategy efforts. Ideally you’ll aspire to a senior management role and thus seize the opportunities you identify. Listen to Barney Harford, the CEO of Orbitz—a business that has done more than most to eliminate knowledge worker jobs. To hire for the tasks he still requires people to do, Harford looks for “T-shaped” individuals. Orbitz needs “people who can go really deep in their particular area of expertise,” he says, “and also go really broad and have that kind of curiosity about the overall organization and how their particular piece of the pie fits into it.” That’s good guidance for any knowledge worker who wants to step up: Start thinking more synthetically—in the old sense of that term. Find ways to rely on machines to do your intellectual spadework, without losing knowledge of how they do it. Harford has done that by applying “machine learning” to the generation of algorithms that match customers with the travel experiences they desire.
Could Joyal’s encyclopedic knowledge be encoded in software? Probably. But no one would make enough doing so to put a Rolls in the driveway. It’s just too small a category. The same is true of Claire Bustarret’s work. Johns Hopkins Magazine reports that Bustarret “has made a career out of knowing paper like other French people know wine.” Her ability to determine from a sheet’s texture, feel, and fibers when and where the paper was made is extremely valuable to historians and art authenticators. Maybe what she knows could be put in a database, and her analytical techniques could be automated. But in the meantime, she would have learned more.
Normally, customers reach out to your company with an issue. They must explain the issue to every person they encounter, and the response time can vary widely. It is difficult to track where the problems initiate and whether the patterns could be systemic. Your customers’ ability to find a solutions usually depends on the knowledge of the team member they reach.
BPAs can be implemented in a number of business areas including marketing, sales and workflow. Toolsets vary in sophistication, but there is an increasing trend towards the use of artificial intelligence technologies that can understand natural language and unstructured data sets, interact with human beings, and adapt to new types of problems without human-guided training. BPA providers tend to focus on different industry sectors but their underlying approach tends to be similar in that they will attempt to provide the shortest route to automation by exploiting the user interface layer rather than going deeply into the application code or databases sitting behind them. They also simplify their own interface to the extent that these tools can be used directly by non-technically qualified staff. The main advantage of these toolsets is therefore their speed of deployment, the drawback is that it brings yet another IT supplier to the organization.