Are you ready for the data-driven management revolution? | Artificial intelligence

Amid all the talk about automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and the rising importance of data, there is another trend that is flying beneath the radar of most industry observers: the instrumentation of work.

At Dreamforce, Salesforce’s recently held user conference, there was meandering talk about values and philanthropy, but surprisingly little discussion, in the grand scheme of things (at least from the main stage), about the evolution of their technology.

When the company’s leaders did finally get around to talking about their software, it basically came down to two things: AI (in the form of the company’s intelligent assistant, Einstein) and integration via the company’s recent acquisition of MuleSoft.

What these two topics have in common, however, is that they are core building blocks that enable the enterprise to further instrument, monitor and manage human work. While it was no more than an undercurrent flowing beneath the surface, I believe it signals the beginning of a new stage of enterprise evolution: call it the data-driven .

“The beauty of the SaaS explosion in the last 5-10 years is that the majority of frontline…work is now captured in the cloud,” explained Alexander Kvamme, Co-founder and CEO of Pathlight, a management automation company. “Whether that’s customer service, marketing, sales, or other functions—as teams become more data-driven, software can now help manage those data-driven teams…and build this high-level model that replicates a manager’s gut-level intuition.”

first places that enterprise organizations started using data to drive efficiencies and optimization. The spreadsheet has long been the manager’s tool-of-choice when it came to crunching management numbers.

In truth, however, the vast majority of most frontline employee day-to-day activities were not measurable, leaving managers to rely on only the small percentage of data that was able to be captured and to fill in the blanks with experience and intuition.

What became clear as I read between the lines of Salesforce’s mainstage announcements and wandered the expo floor, however, was that this need to rely on gut instinct was changing.

What is powering this transformation is that each of Salesforce’s clouds (Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud, etc.), not to mention the applications from their platform competitors such as Microsoft, SAP and ServiceNow, are automating the work of frontline employees.

More than merely automating that work, however, these systems are now capturing massive amounts of data about everything including the specific actions employees take while executing workflows, time spent on activities, and which actions are most likely to lead to the best outcomes.

The result is that this data is enabling enterprises to monitor workflows, workloads, and work performance like never before—and ushering in a new period in which they will use that data to train AI and machine learning models that will, in turn, transform that nature of work itself.

To begin with, the application of these models will be all about augmentation—helping managers make better, faster decisions.

“What you see in data-driven teams is a manager who is very organized, but has twenty tabs open in his browser, has to constantly refresh them, and do a bunch of mental math just to figure out where his team is,” explained Pathlight’s Kvamme.

This approach was evident everywhere you turned at Dreamforce. The question is, what comes next?

You might think that this intense level of work instrumentation would be limited to the largest enterprises with both the resources and need to employ artificial intelligence to transform how they work.

You’d be wrong.

The large enterprise may not even be where most of the action takes place when it comes to the data-driven management transformation.

At its own recent user conference, Freshworks, a small but rapidly growing software company offering cloud-based solutions for customer support, sales and marketing, announced its own intelligent assistant (a cute canine it calls Freddy) and demonstrated Freshworks 360, the company’s integrated customer platform, which notably beat Salesforce’s similar solution to the market by a few months.

Most strikingly, however, is the fact that Freshworks is steadfastly targeting the small and midsize business (SMB) market, which it sees as a strategic advantage.

“Salesforce is a slave to the large enterprise,” remarked David Thompson the company’s Chief Marketing Officer. “As a result, their software reflects the priorities and dysfunctions of large businesses.”

The big take away is that this data-driven approach to managing everything will quickly become table stakes in organizations and enterprises of every size.

This need to use data to transform the way organizations manage themselves leads us back to Salesforce’s acquisition of MuleSoft.

When I first heard the acquisition news, I’ll admit that I was slightly perplexed. On the surface, it didn’t seem to be an obvious move.

But as I sat listening to the Dreamforce keynotes, I had my “duh” moment. The strategy not only made perfect sense, but in retrospect, it was obvious.

In the coming platform warms (the subject of a forthcoming article), he who controls the data will win. With its acquisition of MuleSoft, Salesforce has made it clear that it wants to be the enterprise’s central hub, which connects all the pieces together.

As organizations seek to embrace this data-driven management transformation, telemetry about every activity and every moment of either customer or employee engagement will become essential. And, perhaps most importantly, it will require a complete, contextual picture to get it right.

As Kvamme explained during our conversation, “Managing people is hard. There is no structure, consistency, and process around management. Managers aren’t using anything to manage people currently—they’re using spreadsheets, reports, and dashboards. [They need] a platform built for their day-to-day use case because they’re the intersection between strategy and tactics.”

Until just a short time ago, this was nothing more than a pipe dream. Today’s relentless automation of human work, however, is changing the dynamic. It is now conceivable to use software to track virtually every activity, every interaction, and every decision made by most frontline workers.

Enterprise leaders should be looking at these developments with both hopeful—and wary—eyes. On the one hand, management is an overhead task that rarely produces any direct customer or organizational value. Every efficiency gained by reducing management goes straight to the bottom line.

Even as enterprises embrace the data-driven management ethos, therefore, they must ensure that they use the power of data to speed decisions, remove ambiguity, and increase efficiency—but not at the cost of dehumanizing the organization beyond recognition. They must, in fact, use the power of data to do just the opposite and use it to give their managers more time to be human.

Disclosure: Salesforce provided me a free pass to Dreamforce, a standard industry practice. ServiceNow is an Intellyx client.

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