A startup called B12 builds websites with the help of “friendly robots.” Human designers, client managers, and copywriters still do much of the work—but they don’t coordinate it.
That job has been given to a software program called Orchestra.
As its name implies, Orchestra conducts a swarm of workers, most of whom are freelancers, and other “robots” to complete projects. When a client requests website improvements, which B12 sells a la carte, Orchestra generates a new Slack group, identifies team members who are both available and appropriate to complete specific tasks, and hands off work to humans and automated processes in the appropriate order. It constructs a hierarchy of workers who can check and provide feedback on each other’s work.
Automation is often associated with repetitive work such as torquing a bolt or combing through contracts during an audit. Orchestra and other systems like it demonstrate that the management of that work, and even work too complex to fully automate, also involves tasks with high automation potential. According to a McKinsey analysis, 25% of even a CEO’s current job can be handled by robots, and 35% of management tasks can be automated.
The future of work may have become the hot topic, but the future of management may involve an equally drastic change.
Almost a decade of research on how to automate coordination and other managerial tasks has focused on managing crowds of freelancers, which with platforms like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk can be easily recruited from all around the world.
Employees at a company called MobileWorks (which now builds databases of sales leads and is called LeadGenius), for instance, published a paper with researchers at the University of Berkeley in 2012 describing a “dynamic work routing system” that automatically priced tasks—everything from managing a Twitter account to digitizing stacks of business cards—and assigned them to qualified workers. Multiple workers completed…