This is a guest contribution by Wilma Paxton Doherty, a consultant for organization design firm, ON THE MARK.

As an Organization Designer, would I ever want to be responsible for anything else but contributing to the design of a smart organization? As Organization Designers, we would all say – of course not!

However, as I’m sure the reader is aware, by smart I am talking more about the role of AI, machine learning and technology generally here and what the current role and potential means for the design of organizations now and into the future.

At a recent conference in Leiden, Netherlands, the concept of creating a global network of smart organization design was discussed and agreed upon. The conference was a collaboration between the STS Roundtable, TNO Innovation for Life and Ulbo de Sitter Kennisinstituut. It beautifully brought to life the present and future of technology in organizational life and allowed us to explore the implications for people in organizations and the humane design of those organizations.

The potential of technology to replace humans in many jobs is both exciting and alarming and it was described eloquently by Martijn van Glabeek, Business Information Architect with Alliander NV. He talked about the impact of digital technology as ‘waves together creating a perfect storm’. These waves of disruption were outlined under the banners of Enhanced Working, Smart Environment, Embedded Internet, Artificial Intelligence and Digital Platforms.

Here are current examples of AI implementation:

Amazon Delivery Drone

Worker at Ford wearing an Exoskeleton

But what are some of the pros and cons of our technological advancements?


  • Robots doing the hard tedious, repetitive work
  • Artificial intelligence makes humanity smarter and healthier
  • Platforms provide us with all the services we will ever need


  • Whose technology makes the decisions and based on what principles?
  • How do we know that algorithms are acting on behalf of our interests rather than against them?
  • How can we prevent that platform owners can change the conditions at their will?

We need to work out how to make it right

The images above describe some of what is currently in place – but the reality is that there is so much more. The conversation at the conference explored (through looking at current and future technology) its impact on the human workforce and the implications for the workforce of the future. One of the key ideas to emerge was that if technology was at the heart of the efficiency cycle in organizations, it should, therefore, be possible to remove the human component from this and ‘plug’ people into creativity and innovation. All, one could argue having a positive impact on the quality of life.

As organization designers, what are the implications for us? You could argue we become redundant as we plug ‘big data’ into a machine and get the answer of the perfect organization design!

However, I would argue that it is much more nuanced than that. Not yet has technology mastered the elements of humanity such as ‘feel’ instinct, empathy, power, love, relationships, and connection to other humans and the wider environment.

I am positioning that humans will always be required in organizations, yet in a completely different way from the way that they are currently. As such, leaders in business from a range of disciplines and organization designers need to be thinking about that now. The innovation in technology is fast-paced and our thinking has to be aligned in order to ensure that we build organizations that provide high-quality services and products for their customers. Technology is playing an increasing role and this will only continue. Therefore our thinking has to be focused on how we align our human effort, in the most humane way possible.

Figure 5
Produced by Martijn van Glabeek (NL) Business Information Architect, Alliander NV 2018