· 2 min read · Features

HR leaders need to help build new models for making the most of working in the information age

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Economies and societies are leaving their industrial past behind. We are moving rapidly into what many commentators have described as the information age. Businesses that will prosper in this new age are going to look very different in just a few years. Above all, how they manage and use information will be the increasingly single most important determinant of all organisations' success.

Today, information is closely held. Tomorrow it will be open and freely exchanged. Customers are increasingly empowered by information, exchanging what they know and their experiences with one another. The workforce too is reshaping. It is ageing and this has major implications for the way that organisations retain knowledge. On the other hand, the generation entering work today  – the ‘millennials’ – is the first to be truly immersed in a digital world and brings with it a new set of expectations and aspirations. Intense competition drives a cycle of constant innovation. Business models need to adapt regularly to a very different and dynamic business environment.

Taken together, these forces point to a major shift in the way that work is organised and how productivity is conceived and measured. And the critical distinction will be the way that people are able to manage the vast amount of information to which they will have almost completely unfettered access. In the workplace of the future, information management will change out of all recognition. This change should not be seen primarily as a technology issue. While smart IT infrastructures will have a major influence on how work in the future is executed, it is as an enabler to new forms of collaboration and teaming together that IT’s influence will be most profoundly felt.

Employees will move away from the desktop. Instead, the services and applications they use will reside in cloudtops that they can access from anywhere and at anytime. Secure and regularly backed up, services and applications in the cloud will provide users with personalised sets of tools. Employees will construct their own environments to suit their changing needs and the dynamic nature of their work.

Responding to the rise of the empowered customer and ever-faster business cycles is not a challenge that any single individual will be able to meet alone. Collaboration will come to the fore. That means more rapid and pervasive means to share information and communication will become an integrated element of all business applications. Whereas businesses have to date enjoyed variable success in their attempts to embrace the development of social networking within the corporate environment, many of these efforts have run in parallel with existing systems, inherently limiting their power. In contrast, tomorrow’s working environment will operate as an ‘augmented social workplace’ in which everyone and everything  – physical and virtual – will be connected in an environment of continuous co-creation.

As collaborative working becomes the default mode within all organisations, other capabilities will become increasingly important. The need to respond fast to well-informed, active customers will mean business needs to be able to understand what is happening, and where in real time. Whereas today a static pool of information is analysed to generate customer insights, success in the future will depend on the ability to understand contextual and location-based information delivered in a constant stream. As a result, customer interactions will become richer and more relevant. Delivering on the promise of apparently endless amounts of information calls for the development of decision-making support that can help workers to create the right response for any given scenario. These personal decision engines will support individuals, groups and even entire organisations to make sense of the information around them and in response instantly develop the right expertise, solutions and new models to drive their business forward.

We are already seeing the signs of change arising from the start of the information age. Leading businesses are adapting their organisations’ capabilities to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. People, and how they work, are at the centre of this information-driven transformation. HR leaders will therefore need to make sure that they can equip their businesses to embrace the changes and help build the new models, behaviours and capabilities that will be vital to future success.

Astrid Bohé, Accenture Information Management Services, Communications and High Tech