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Home >Opinion >Columns >Opinion | India could play a role in calibrating the future of work

For decades, companies across industries have assessed and benchmarked their processes against multiple quality standards, such as ISO, Capability Maturity Model Integration and Six Sigma. These have enabled companies to drive consistency, predictability, reliability and repeatability, thereby providing a stamp of trust to partners, consumers, governments and society at large.

Many of these standards were developed during multiple waves of industrial opportunities, often referred to as Industry 1.0, Industry 2.0 and Industry 3.0, driven by mechanization, industrialization and computerization. In the context of Industry 4.0, where physical and virtual spaces coalesce, largely driven by technology, it is believed that every atomic process in an organization will be re-imagined, fundamentally changing the future of work, workforce and workplace.

The big question is: Do we need to wait for businesses to stumble and navigate to this new way of working, or can we proactively define a playbook incorporating global best practices, frameworks and models, along with an assessment methodology to benchmark companies against a new standard? This will encourage companies to get it right the first time, while driving higher productivity and sustainability.

In other words, can we define a “Future of Work Maturity Model" to assess companies? Unlike prior standards, this one will have to examine all facets of a business, and more importantly, their interplay. Let’s call these facets the 4Ps: People, Processes, Partnerships and Protocols. Consider each by turn.

People: Unlike earlier decades when people moved to hubs of economic activity, in the new world of unevenly distributed skills, jobs will go where people live. Newer digital technologies such as 3D printing, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality, Internet of Things and 5G will enable companies to unbundle complex business processes into smaller tasks and farm them out to anywhere in the world, where the best talent can solve problems at the most attractive price. Futurists call this “remotopia", or the new utopia for remote working.

Added to this is the gig economy that undermines the need for full-time workers (and, might we add, traditional graduate degrees and certificates) and embraces a fluid workforce, spanning temporary and flexible jobs, including crowd sourcing, moonlighting and freelancing, based on demonstrated skills and competencies.

Processes: One has to look at just the last 60 days to understand the scale and speed of process changes across companies. Take the example of the pharmaceutical industry and what’s happening to the traditional continuum of drug discovery, clinical trials, manufacturing and commercial operations. This process has been completely re-imagined, leading to simultaneous drug discovery and manufacturing to crunch cycle times. Industry after industry is moving to agile, iterative and blended processes, overhauling traditional approaches.

Partnerships: Partnerships in the new era need to be viewed in two parts. First is the traditional partner ecosystem within an industry, such as sub-contractors, distributors or logistics providers. Second is the new phenomenon of humans and machines working in teams.

Berkshire Hathaway, JP Morgan Chase and Amazon joining hands for a new health venture heralded a new era of partnerships. Likewise, when humanoids, cobots and other digital workers work alongside humans and get paid for it, it would mark the advent of a different model of partnership.

Protocols: Protocols span procedures, rules, regulations, agreements and covenants, and cover everything from governance, ethics, risk, compliance and security, to health and well-being, the environment and sustainability.

With machines entering the workforce and AI driving new forms of behaviour, tech ethics or machine ethics have taken centre-stage. As remote work becomes the new norm, governance, risk and compliance are being rethought for a distributed model. Everything produced, manufactured and developed is getting aligned with the larger themes of environment protection and sustainability.

All this begs an interesting question. Who is best equipped to develop this new standard? Top global universities or standards bodies could again lap up this opportunity by working closely with industry, just as Carnegie Mellon, ISACA and British Standards Institute have done over the years. But India could also play a larger role in defining standards for the world to embrace.

About 300 years ago, India and China contributed to 60% of the world’s economic value, with India’s contribution being roughly half of it. Our contribution diminished largely because we did not participate in any meaningful fashion in the first three waves of industrial activity. But with Industry 4.0, it could be said that India is well positioned to lead the world and also set standards for it.

With arguably the world’s largest pool of technology (read digital) talent that grants the country international exposure as well as deep industry expertise, stemming from partnerships with Global 2000 corporations, India has a once-in-a-century opportunity to become an uploading nation once again and define standards for the world to adopt and get assessed against.

Kapil Viswanathan and Ramkumar Ramamoorthy are, respectively, vice-chairman of Krea University and president of Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry

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