Business Technology: Virtual “Agents” in the Workplace

Business Technology: Virtual "Agents" in the WorkplaceTechnology is vastly increasing our own capabilities; some argue it can allow us to be in two places at once.

Wall Street Journal contributor Michael Schrage discusses the evolution of what he calls “multitasking on (virtual) steroids.” According to his article, “How You Can Be Two Places at Once“, technology doesn’t just make jobs easier and faster, but it allows us to create virtual “agents” that help them perform multiple jobs in various places at the same time.

Here is an early example he gives. The CFO of a global bank group wrote a program that scanned data from online spreadsheets and the software that managers used to keep track of key performance measures. The software could identify early-warning signs and trigger an alert if something was off. With the software, the CFO detected operational issues that business line managers couldn’t catch; he was able to monitor multiple financial adjustments at once, far more than he could on his own.

Other potential future software examples include smartphones that listen for keywords in meetings and alert the owner when their action is required (without the person having to attend the meeting). The idea is enticing. Top executives could handle double the tasks without being stretched too thin. An individual’s productivity and results would be backed by the accuracy of software results, potentially resulting in fewer human errors.

Of course there are several limitations. Virtual agents based on programming can only go so far in imitating human decision making. Interpersonal relationships within organizations could suffer- employees tend to fare better with human interaction, and might not appreciate a software program monitoring their work.

Nonetheless, the ideas presented are fascinating, and the potential uses of this type of software from a business perspective could change how companies operate. What are your thoughts on “virtual agents” extending manager’s capabilities in the business world?

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