The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing. The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of knowledge work and the knowledge worker.”
Management Challenges for the 21st Century
In the half-century since Peter Drucker first coined the phrase “knowledge worker” the share of the work force represented by this group has grown considerably, to as much as half of all workers by some measures. So too have grown investments targeting knowledge worker productivity. Despite this, we remain far from realizing the level of improvement seen in manual labor over the course of the last century.
Traditionally, IT investments targeting business productivity have focused on one of two areas. The first is automation technologies, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or the more contemporary technology of Business Process Management (BPM). Those address repeatable, predictable modes of work and are designed to enforce a command and control management model, where efficiency gains are sought through standardizing how work is performed.
Yet scripting work processes in advance, as is presented through work automation, offers little benefit for increasing knowledge worker productivity, without the ability to adapt to changes in the business environment. Much of the knowledge worker’s daily activities cannot be accurately defined in advance, at least not with the precision necessary to code into IT applications, and therefore most often take place outside the realm of ERP and BPM. Where it does occur, it is in the other common target area of IT investments—the tools and infrastructure that enable communication and information sharing, such as networking, e-mail, content management and increasingly social media.
As IT investments have advanced their footprint in the workplace, a gap has emerged. It can be found between e-mail and ad hoc communication tools, which, while used in one form or another by all knowledge workers, offer little with regard to task management, and the ERP/BPM realm, premised on predictable work patterns defined in advance. What has emerged to fill this void is Adaptive or Dynamic Case Management (DCM) – solutions with capabilities that recognize the perpetual evolution that will characterize some businesses processes and provide powerful support to those who must work within these environments.