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The idea of a composable workforce seems new at first glance—it is in certain aspects—but it’s built on historical precedent. To be a composable workforce is to apply the existing principles of containers to new challenges, in this case, people.

The history is a rich one. While containers may have gained notoriety with Docker and similar services, its first iteration was in the physical world of shipping and logistics in the 1950s. American trucking magnate Malcolm McLean saw a problem, namely, inefficiency and theft, and decided to do something about it. Thanks to him, containerization was born, and trade was never the same.

The Container Principle: Shipping and Logistics

Containerization allows shippers to maximize cargo-loading efficiency by optimally building out a space while respecting constraints such as orientation, crush factors, and stacking rules.

Theft became almost nonexistent, and efficiency went through the roof. It brought other benefits along for the ride; productivity, resource utilization, reliability, and responsiveness all increased. The cost savings on insurance and other measures were an added bonus.

Containerization in the Digital Age

In the digital realm, Docker has become synonymous with containers, but the practice has been around for at least a decade. Unlike virtual machines (VM), containers use only the resources they need to run an application, which frees up memory, bandwidth, and storage on the server. Thanks to containers, businesses can run multiple software and development instances without latency issues and out-of-memory errors.

As with shipping, containers have forever altered cloud computing. They help with reliability and efficiency. They also offer added benefits; they’re portable, scalable, and easy to provision and deprovision.

The Container Principle: Cloud Computing

Containerization allows IT to maximize server efficiency by optimally building out application stacks while respecting constraints such as federal regulations, security policies, and business needs.

Containers don’t replace VMs, at least not in most instances, but rather augment them. It’s through using the two types of cloud computing together that enterprises see the most profit. They get the security of a closed system and the efficiency and convenience of containers that can be turned on, turned off, and shuffled from one digital environment to another.

The Composable Workforce

Containerization has been applied to the physical and digital worlds, but it’s rarely been applied to the melding of the two. It’s time to change that reality. People’s work habits and the Internet of Things (IoT) have already caused the two worlds to more or less converge already, so it’s the logical next step.

The Container Principle: People

Containerization allows enterprises to maximize operational efficiency and effectiveness by optimally building out its workforces while respecting constraints such as business goals, infrastructure, and connectivity.

In this scenario, the enterprise returns to the physical, or analog, realm but weaves technologies and tools like streaming video collaboration, mobile devices, and wearables into it. In doing so, the workforce becomes “composable.” The organization is no longer bound by traditional constraints like the number of experts on hand or airline schedules; rather, they’re only bound by infrastructure and connectivity. Considering most people can get a signal almost anywhere in the world, the constraint is negligible.

When this shift occurs, the transformation to work will be monumental. Businesses will be able to accelerate growth, drive performance, improve service-level agreements (SLAs), and increase customer satisfaction. Those are only some of the benefits; cost savings will emerge, too, as will a more strategic allocation of human resources.

The era of the composable workforce is on the horizon, and it’s merely waiting for enterprises to take hold of it. Those who do will see efficiency gains, but more than that, they’ll grow their profit margins; create a competitive advantage that’s difficult to overcome; leverage existing resources in smart and exciting ways; and deliver added value to their employees and customers. They will become companies known for innovative problem solving, just as Docker and McLean were before them.

Image: Tristan Taussac (Creative Commons)