Strategic workforce planning is a powerful yet little-used tool. Digital disruption and more fluid labour market will make its adoption all but mandatory in the coming years.

In late December, Reuters reported that 2016 was the third-biggest year on record for major corporate mergers and acquisitions. Large firms, seeking to become disruptors or avoid being disrupted, were unusually willing to consider making a deal.

The forces driving this change are not going away. In the next few years, digital tools will continue to lower the barriers to entry for most industries. Integrated value chains will keep eroding organizational boundaries and spurring convergence. Automation, demographic shifts, and globalization will not stop transforming labor supply and demand.

This change will create many challenges and even crises. But, as the saying goes, in every crisis there is an opportunity. Strategic workforce planning, as a new Accenture Strategy report points out, will undoubtedly be an outstanding example of both.

Strategic workforce planning, as the Conference Board of Canada put it back in 2009, means connecting and directing an organization’s talent management to put the right people in the right place at the right time to execute a business strategy. Since its inception in the early 2000s, strategic workforce planning has increasingly adopted tools from other corporate functions, like the logic and analytic tools popular in the world of finance.

Historically, most firms have treated strategic workforce planning as a “nice to have.” Research from Accenture Strategy’s Business Agility team in 2013 reported that 55 percent of organizations engage in scenario-based workforce planning annually at best.

But in the near future, strategic workforce planning will move from “nice to have” to “need to have.” Executives estimate that in three years almost half of the workforce will be contractors or temps. Almost 80 percent of this “liquid” workforce will be assigned to dynamic projects, not static job functions. Without an intelligent, adaptive strategy to manage these people, any business plan will be mere wishful thinking.

Fortunately, the digital disruption that necessitates strategic workforce planning also makes it easier. New prescriptive analytics tools can help businesses go beyond describing the status quo and projecting its implications. These tools provide a high-fidelity digital playground for businesses to constantly optimize workforce choices and determine not what is happening or what will happen, but what should happen. The accuracy of prescriptive analytics lets organizations constantly simulate the outcome of different courses of action with astonishing accuracy. These tools provide businesses with one thing that can never be disrupted by any digital revolution: adaptability.

Welcome to the digital playground. Join me next week when we’ll go over how a major technology firm used a prescriptive simulation model to find insight on reducing overtime for workers, improve response time for customers, and boosting global workforce use.

Head here to download Accenture Strategy’s report on strategic workforce planning.