How CIOs Are Using Algorithms To Tell People What To Do

Algorithms can sometimes make better decisions than people can
Algorithms can sometimes make better decisions than people can
Image Credit: x6e38

As the person with the CIO job, one of your main tasks is to assign work to the various people who work for you. As the number of people grows and the amount of work that has to be done seems to get even larger, this task that once upon a time appeared to be simple, can quickly get out of hand. Over at those fancy new startup companies that like to refer to themselves as being part of the “gig economy”, they believe in the importance of information technology and have started to use both apps and algorithms to assign tasks to the self employed workers that they use. Is this something that you should be doing?

The Power Of An Algorithms

The idea of using algorithms to assign tasks to workers is not really all that far fetched. It is already in use over at Royal Dutch Shell and General Electric. They have taken what the startups are doing and are using it to assign tasks to their full time workforce. The belief is that that the new tools that the companies are using to make these algorithmic assignments will make the companies more efficient and will allow their employees more opportunities to do new types of work that they would not get to do otherwise.

An interesting question that the person in the CIO position is going to have to take a look at is what the use of these algorithms is going to mean for the managers that you currently have reporting to you. The applications are are starting to take on roles that have traditionally been associated with managers. These include guiding strategic projects and scheduling. As CIOs we need to realize that change is coming. Our managers may find themselves with fewer responsibilities or, in some cases, out of a job. One of the things that algorithms can do very well is to take a look at a company’s workforce and determine who on staff has the best set of skills and experience in order to take on a new task. Algorithms do a good job of matching workers to projects. As the workers work on the project, the software can watch their progress and refine its decision making for the next round of worker job assignments.

The reason that CIOs are in the process of trying to determine how best to use algorithms in the workplace is because they want to find ways to apply artificial intelligence to business processes such as hiring and other types of human resource work that has to be done. The market for human resource software is large and is getting larger. This market has increased by 23% in the past two years and has reached a value of US$11.5B. Even more impressive is that the market is anticipated to continue to keep growing. It should increase by another 25% by 2020.

What The Future Holds

So why would CIOs want to use algorithms to make workplace task assignments? There are actually several reasons. It turns out that software does a better job at doing some management tasks than people do. Specifically, we humans make mistakes such as falling into traps like confirmation bias where we only accept information that reinforces what we already believe. Workers also like to use their intuition to make workplace decisions. However, studies have shown that these people end up making poor decisions even though if you asked them they would rate their decision making skills highly. The world that we are living in is increasingly quantitative and we are asking the people in the IT department to provide us with more and more data driven decisions. This is exactly the type of decision that an algorithm is good at making.

The reason that the use of algorithms to make work assignments has become so attractive to CIOs is because the alternative simply does not seem to be working. Right now we are asking the managers in the IT department to build teams, identify the potential of the members of those teams, assign tasks to team members, measure the performance of team members and provide feedback to team members. The problem with all of this is that managers generally are not all that good at doing these things. There is always the possibility that algorithms could someday replace managers in the IT department.

CIOs need to understand that there is no “silver bullet”. Algorithms also can fall into traps when they are making decisions. What CIOs need to realize is that these algorithms have been trained to make their decisions by searching data and attempting to find similarities to historical data. The problem with this is that it means that the algorithm will do a poor job of predicting rare events such as when a given employee would do well at a job that they have never had before. The way that firms are dealing with this issue is to not use the algorithms to substitute for humans. Instead, they are using the software to speed up administrative work and use the data that has been collected in order to help their IT managers improve the decisions that they are making. The overall goal is to find ways to optimize the use of a manager’s time.

What All Of This Means For You

CIOs have a number of different responsibilities. One of the most important of these is making sure that the right people in the IT department are assigned the right work to do. This has always been a difficult thing for IT managers to get correct. However, with the arrival of new algorithms that have been optimized for this type of decision making, this task has all of a sudden become much easier to do.

The idea of using algorithms to make work assignment for staff is not all that radical. Large firms have already started to use algorithms in this way. These algorithms have the ability to make the same decisions as IT managers. This means the CIO is going to have to take a look at how he or she wants to use their managers going forward when they have algorithms that can do some of their tasks. Software that provides algorithms to help with decision making is entering into the workplace. This is a large market and it is only going to grow in the future. CIOs have been asking their managers to make a series of decisions about how best to use their staff. It turns out that these are the types of decisions that managers are not very good at making. CIOs need to be careful when they consider using algorithms to automate work assignments. Algorithms may not be able to determine when someone can do a task that they have not done in the past. Many firms are using algorithms as a way to supplement their managers in order to allow them to become more efficient and to make better decisions.

As CIO you know the power of using algorithms to make decisions. Applying algorithms to making workplace staff work assignment decisions appears to be a new and novel way to make better decisions. CIOs have to carefully evaluate their needs, understand how they want to best use the managers that they have, and then apply algorithms to the places that they make the most sense.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Is there any part of HR that it would not make sense to apply a decision making algorithm to?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Being the person with the CIO job is hard work. You try and you try and you try to do a good job but it always seems like you are somehow falling further and further behind. There is so much work to do in regards to the importance of information technology that you only dream of being able to do all of the things that you should be doing in order to make your IT department as good as it could be. In cases like this, it might be helpful to take a look around in the world of high-tech and see if there is anyone who is getting all of this stuff correct. Does anyone know how to run things correctly? It turns out that the answer is yes – Adobe.

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