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.

As we’ve seen, advanced analytics platforms can help businesses model future workforce needs. This will become increasingly important as the workforce becomes more fluid and more work is done by temporary workers or contractors.

It is difficult to overstate the sheer processing power of the machines that will drive these analytics tools. Last summer, China’s National Supercomputing Center in the city of Wuxi launched Sunway TaihuLight, a supercomputer that can perform 93 quadrillion calculations per second. That is 12.5 million calculations every second for every human being on the planet. The advent of quantum computing may boost the processing power of such machines even higher.

Yet even the most powerful processors cannot make the leap from information to insight without the aide of human judgement. The ability to track and analyze a nearly infinite number of variables, in fact, places a premium on knowing which variables matter. Perhaps that’s why corporate leaders, reminded of the digital future of business for years, continue to recognize the importance of the human skills of data interpretation and creative thinking. Recent Accenture Strategy data found that corporate managers rank these skills among the most valuable for success in their jobs in the next five years.

There’s another reason that human guidance will always be needed for effective workforce planning: the idiosyncrasies of the individual. As a rule, the further up an organization’s HR chart, the fewer people there are in the world who are qualified to do the job. For instance, there are more people who could do a good job working in an Apple Store than there are who could do a good job running Apple. Past a certain level of seniority, large amounts of data about current and potential high-level employees becomes effectively impossible to find. Since prescriptive analytics needs huge amounts of data to really shine, workforce planning for very senior positions in large organizations will probably require some degree of human touch.

As demonstrated in a recent Accenture Strategy report, the future of prescriptive analytics is likely built on a partnership between humans and machines. Machines will run the models. Humans will apply the insights to tasks like creating recruiting strategies, succession planning, and interventions to make sure future talent needs are met.

Organizations will need the combined power of machines and humans to deal with the unrelenting pace of digital change. Nowhere will this need be more acute or more difficult to meet than in the area of labor, dealing as it does with “the most complex structure in the universe.” A joint study from the Accenture Institute for High Performance and Accenture Strategy from 2015 found that executives cite the availability, cost, and sourcing of labor as among the top ways in which volatility is impacting their business.

Businesses in the future will need to answer tough questions quickly. What will happen if policies shift, or supply and demand do not behave as we expect? What areas of our business should we prioritize for improvement? What specific actions will optimize the workforce? Strategic workforce planning driven by prescriptive analytics empowers organizations to develop robust, flexible answers to these questions.

Join me next week to learn about five simple steps any organization can take to start unlocking the power of strategic workforce planning right now. Or head here to read Accenture Strategy’s report on strategic workforce planning.