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The future of work has become an all-encompassing buzzword, representing everything from automation to working remotely. 

But at its core, the future is about breaking jobs down to their essential duties. That’s according to Ravin Jesuthasan, the global leader for transformation services at the consulting firm Mercer who has written several books on the future of work.

“It’s essentially going to a much more granular level of analysis than just this thing called a job,” he told Insider. 

Jesuthasan works with tech leaders and other business stakeholders to find opportunities for innovation. Thinking about jobs on a task-by-task basis leaves more room for innovating, according to Jesuthasan. In his eyes, understanding the essential duties of a job can best help stakeholders decide if artificial intelligence, automation, or another form of work is best for the gig. 

Jesuthasan said the foundation of innovation is leading with the work, not the technology.

Jesuthasan’s role in the process is changing how businesses view work first, then connecting internal stakeholders to make that change happen. According to Jesuthasan, when companies view the tech and the work as a binary relationship, businesses miss out on a much bigger opportunity on how the tech can augment the work. 

“They also miss out where the particular tech could potentially transform an entire process or a workflow,” he said. 

For example, workplaces don’t have to decide between automating a process and hiring a worker to do it. Instead, management can use a combination of both options by automating the repetitive tasks alongside a worker hired for parts of the role that tech can’t do. It’s tech and human work combined, not choosing between one and the other.

This process reaches beyond any single department to connect tech leaders with other parts of the organization like human resources. HR is largely responsible for guiding the future of work principles that business-technology leaders can help implement, like where tech can boost productivity. 

The future of work goes hand in hand with digitalization, too, Jesuthasan said. Digitalization includes everything from automation to enabling tech that improves transparency and the effectiveness of workers. He said it’s the digital enablement of the entire business model that’s crucial to supporting a workplace of the future.

Innovation doesn’t always mean buying and implementing the hottest tech on the market. According to Jesuthasan, tech leaders can help businesses solve problems innovatively by using resources already available. 

That’s where he works with tech stakeholders to drive innovative approaches to work. Those stakeholders include the individuals responsible for third-party vendor relationships, those responsible for enterprise applications, and business partners for specific functions. 

“Given the proliferation of options related to robotic-process automation, machine learning, natural-language processing, IT has a real insight into where are we using maybe some of these solutions in other parts of the organization,” Jesuthasan said. 

Large companies usually have a disconnect between departments and where they’re using vendors. Jesuthasan helps leaders across companies, including tech, solve work issues by connecting those departments. 

For example, if one department is already using a third-party automation product, it may have enough excess capability to solve a problem in another department. Jesuthasan prioritizes the work first before the tech that a business is already using to better tailor innovation to its needs.

“The concepts we developed are great, but we need to ensure they work for that particular organization,” he said.

Sometimes a prototype or introducing new technology will be necessary for innovation if there’s a process bottleneck, a shortage of talent, or an opportunity to cut costs, Jesuthasan added. 

Even in those cases, however, the work comes first. 

“​​When they lead with the tech, they miss out on where the tech could really substitute human work,” said Jesuthasan.

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