What’s happening this week at the intersection of management and technology
Wearables at work: It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly three years since the much-discussed and often-derided beta version of Google Glass was released. Since then, the Apple watch has made the cover of Time and there’s been a lot of hype about the future of wearable computing. But how — and where — are wearables actually being used in the workplace?
Mary Pratt offers three examples in a ComputerWorld article. DHL is conducting a pilot program in a Netherlands warehouse, where employees are wearing smart glasses to pick orders — with a 25% improvement in efficiency. After a successful pilot, Lee Company, in the commercial building services space, is in the midst of a full rollout of smart glasses that connect its on-site plumbing and electrical tradespeople to senior techs back in its triage center. And, energy utility Southern Co. is using head-mounted and wrist-mounted devices to record work as a means of ensuring and enhancing employee compliance with procedures in plants and in the field.
Avoid gender bias, hire an avatar: The latest evidence of endemic gender bias in the workplace came in a large-scale study of proposed changes in software coding — known as pull requests — among the millions of open-source programmers on Github. The study revealed that even though women’s pull requests overall were accepted more often than men’s (suggesting that women do higher-quality work), when their gender was known, women programmers' pull requests were rejected more often than when their gender was not known.
This finding and a virtual reality headset gave Katharine Zaleski a wearables-at-work idea that she shared in Quartz. The co-founder and president of PowerToFly thinks that companies could use virtual reality technology to reduce gender bias in the hiring process. Job candidates could adopt an avatar of their choice and interview as whomever they please. Zaleski likens the process to the blind auditions that were used by leading U.S. symphonies in the 1970s and 1980s, when simply placing musicians behind a screen increased the odds that female musicians would progress beyond the initial audition by 50%.
Boosting big data ROI: Aggressive adoptions of new technology can be a double-edged sword. Early adopters can get a jump on the competition and capture a lion’s share of the rewards… as long as they can successfully integrate it into their companies — a substantial risk given the unknowns that often accompany new technology. Big data is no exception, reports Jacques Bughin, director of McKinsey’s Brussels office, in a McKinsey Quarterly article.
Bughin bases his conclusions on his firm’s latest study of investments in big data among 714 companies of varying sizes, across industries and geographies. It revealed that data analytics delivered value-added productivity benefits — especially in competitive intelligence, marketing, and operations and the supply chain — and increased operating profits in the range of 6%. But, warns Bughin, it also revealed investing in the analytics needed to manipulate big data isn’t enough.
In addition, companies have to invest early — the first movers in the survey captured a full 25% of the rewards of big data. They have to invest in skills as well as technology — 40% of the profit improvement among the companies in the survey came from coordinating investments in tech and the people needed to put it to work. And, they have to hire lots of experts — 15% of operating profit increases are linked to building a department staffed with a broad range of data and analytics talent that can be deployed across the organization.
The challenge of digital transformation: Pretty much everyone agrees that digitization is an essential ingredient of corporate transformation and success. Wharton’s Eric Clemons reminds us that the devil is in the details.
In a think piece for Knowledge@Wharton, the operations, information and decisions professor pegs big data analytics and online social networks as the two technological trends that are driving the digital transformation of the firm. But while they both enable a fundamental redesign of strategy and structure, they also pull a business in opposite directions. “Where big data analytics may create local fiefdoms, online social networks create distributed pockets of autonomous connection, affiliation, and even affection,” explains Clemons.
This pulling can stretch the integrative mesh that holds a company together and create holes — gaps in decision rights, misaligned property rights and incentive systems, and interrupted information flows — that, in turn, can lead to crises like Deepwater Horizon and the Volkswagen emissions scandal. “The general directions of digital transformation are clear to all of us,” Clemons concludes. “The successful implementation of digital transformation throughout the organization is far more complex.”