Why data-driven business is now more granular

The laws and regulations that govern us will need to adapt to an algorithm-driven society.
29 April 2019

People used to drive, train, walk or cycle to work… make a cup of coffee, say a few hellos and then saunter off to their desks to plod through a paper-based ‘in tray’ full of letters, purchase orders and various other elements of office-centric paraphernalia.

Life was basically okay, lunch came around noon or possibly slightly later… and during the afternoon the phone would go, heralding the fact that someone wanted to invite you to a meeting.

Granular bites

Sometime around the end of the last millennium, we start to worry that people weren’t really fulfilling all the commercial productivity potential that they might be harboring— and some departmental managers secretly worried that many of us were just coming to the meeting for the cookies and a chance to put our feet up.

This is when business started to get more granular.

We started to break down tasks using project management tools, and this has had a massive onward developmental impact into a number of key technology areas, with business process automation (BPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) probably sitting at the top of the pile.

BPA has allowed us to break elements of work apart and rethink the scope and content of our workers’ jobs.

People still come to work and people still make coffee and have what we still call ‘a job’, but that job exists as a defined set of measurable tasks and targets (often overseen by key performance indicators, or KPIs) inside systems that we now like to call digital workflows.

Darlings of digitization

Discussion surrounding digital workflows is a hot topic. This is where business can take advantage of its newfound granularity and more accurately decide what actions happen when, where and how.

Crucially then, that when, where and how factor decides not just who does what, it also decides what does what.

Some work tasks will be performed by human beings (remember them?) in traditional working environments, but some work tasks will be performed by machines with enough software intelligence to carry out functions in an automated fashion.

This is granular business in motion. It is the splitting apart of previous work systems that were comparatively static if we compare them to the more dynamic nature of cloud-based services-centric computing networks today.

Granular caveats, clauses and qualifications

Although this trend is playing out across businesses in every vertical, the rate at which different sectors of industry are able to ‘go granular’ is remarkably different.

The financial trade is outstripping the agricultural sector, for example, as a general trend, but not in every use case. Some farmers are still only using granular business automation to oversee core elements of stock control and accounts. There are others experimenting with image capture technologies that assess produce growth patterns using drones that deliver information into big data analytics engines. The Internet of Cabbages is really that not far off.

But as we digitize business to a more granular degree, there are obviously legal challenges relating to compliance and governance.

Legal engineering

Some industry commentators have even suggested that we are about to see the rise of a new role in the form of the ‘legal engineer’. This is a specialist who will look at just how digitally granular your business has become and be able to highlight all the compliance controls that an organization has to put in place.

In general, we can certainly say that the drive to granularity and the use of AI and complex algorithms for decision making (self-driving cars, mortgage and credit decisions, criminal justice, immigration, etc.) is creating new legal challenges.

The laws and regulations that govern us will need to adapt to a software/algorithm driven society. The outcome of this is not more memos from lawyers– but a new approach to making laws like software, embedding it within applications as computer code.

The granular business is a more powerful business, but it is also a more complex business operation with greater responsibility for the welfare of people and indeed machines all round.

Don’t panic!

Granular business will change a lot, but don’t panic— some meetings will still be scheduled as part and parcel of the normal course of business and yes, cookies will be available.