We've long been hearing that technology is replacing employees, but now it appears that management positions increasingly may also be automated.


Virtual management systems may take over traditional management tasks like hiring, assigning work, and making evaluations, writes Devin Fidler of the nonprofit research group Institute for the Future in Harvard Business Review. To illustrate, Fidler's organization created a prototype called iCEO, which uses software platforms to assign work to people.

The Institute tasked iCEO with creating a 124-page report for a Fortune 50 company.  To begin the daunting project, the virtual management system asked workers on Mechanical Turk (Amazon's crowdsourced-labor tool) to curate articles on the topic. Next, it passed those articles on to oDesk, a software platform that picked out insights from the articles. Finally, iCEO asked writers to write and fact-check the report.

In all, iCEO coordinated with 23 people across the world, finishing the report in weeks. With conventional management, it would have taken months.

Managers may counter that "a computer may be more efficient than I am, but I get paid for coming up with ideas."  But craftsmen made a similar argument before the assembly line turned individual handicraft into mass commodities, Fidler writes. 

It will take a year or two to develop iCEO into a software that businesses can use, he says. Still, unless managers help introduce virtual management systems, they are likely to be left on the sidelines.

"We need real solutions that enhance work environments, increase employment opportunities, and provide new kinds of worker flexibility, to the benefit of all," Fidler writes. "And like the rest of us, executives face the option of helping build those solutions now or watch as their roles are automated out of existence."


Published on: Apr 29, 2015