Will the Internet of Things Humanize Your Work?

THINK has been taking a quick peek into the future of the Internet of Things, the rapidly-developing network of connected devices that promises to revolutionize the way we live and work – its growth potential, impact on financial services and likely challenges to security. IoT will also undoubtedly change our workplaces, for better and worse. You could argue that automation has already transformed our organizations, as self-service stations and video tellers have begun appearing in increasing numbers, and mobile technology has radically changed the way everyday people manage their money. The data we now gather has changed the way we market to, acquire and understand our members. If IoT technology continues to create new ways to ratchet up efficiency and lower costs, its potential easily exceeds our ability to envision what’s to come. Yet – as Geoff Colvin argues in Humans Are Underrated (read the THINK review here) – the true potential of this kind of technology may lie in its ability to humanize us. That’s a good thing. Because, taken in the wrong direction, connected technology could turn us into a nation of automatons – endlessly counting and tracking bits and bytes without any real insight or relationships. To circle back to an earlier point, IoT offers us the opportunity to accomplish what we humans aren’t very good at: rote tasks, constant attention, massive computation. A human supervisor might have only a high-level knowledge of what his or her team is up to throughout the day. A simple GPS tracker, on the other hand, marks every bathroom stop and Snapple break. As we move into a new era of constant connectivity, the question is this: Will greater connectivity eliminate our jobs and bog us down with endless, possibly meaningless, information – or will it empower us to humanize our workplaces and our relationships with members? For example, enhanced data gathering via connected devices plus predictive analytics may increasingly enable us to “see” when a member is about to experience a major life change – marriage, the birth of a child, the loss of a parent. What we do with this information, however, represents the greater value. Will we find a way to make ourselves meaningful during these life transitions, so that we become the financial institutions of record throughout a family’s lifespan? Perhaps. But doing so will require more than effective data management. It will require the very human qualities of empathy and communication. Likewise, the ways in which IoT and its related capabilities will change our workplaces are largely up to us – and this is a huge imaginative challenge. Consider, for a moment, what just one state-of-the-art teller station upgrade might do. Though some of us will admit to a certain Scrooge McDuck-like enthusiasm for counting cash, smart devices that automate this process clearly could improve accuracy and eliminate drudgery. Will this free up staff to engage members in conversation, dream up new products or services, or even humanize the transaction with a smile? If it does, it won’t be a function of IoT. It will come from placing value on human connectedness. Though the true impact of IoT is still to come, the time to contemplate the future is here. Human experience will change. Our relationship to money and our experience of it will become ever more virtual. The challenge of keeping ourselves secure will grow and intensify, calling for a bigger, more coordinated, more sophisticated effort than ever before. And the possibilities that lie before us in the workplace are transformative – if we can find the inspiration to use these powers in transformative ways.