In addition to the digital tools entering the workplace now, several technologies and trends on the horizon have the potential to further transform the way we work and interact with others.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is already in use throughout the web and increasingly within the enterprise, handling everything from initial call screening for sales prospects to scheduling.
Chatbots are evolving into more complex virtual assistants, interacting with humans to replace phone calls, emails, and texts. Online virtual assistants, such as Amy or Andrew at x.ai, schedule meetings based on calendars and preferences, propose a range of times by email, negotiate with (human) administrative assistants as needed, and send invitations. This type of help has a high return on investment: x.ai estimates that it takes humans an average of 17 minutes to schedule one meeting, while virtual assistants cost less than $100 per month.
Eventually, this will evolve into virtual assistants speaking to each other, communicating, and negotiating several orders of magnitude faster. Suddenly, being able to schedule a meeting with eight senior executives in three different time zones — all without interacting with a human being — will be easy and completely invisible to the human user.
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Sensors, embedded devices, and wearables are steadily becoming ubiquitous in the enterprise, generating huge amounts of data that, if not managed well, can easily become noise. What’s needed is a way to harness data “in context,” to understand relevant factors, including location, activities, environment, and even the emotional state of the user. The aggregation of information with context is extremely powerful, allowing organizations to move toward context- or data-driven workflows rather than rigid processes. Information can be consolidated and tailored to the user’s setting and device, with the right information being presented in the right way based on the context at hand.
Orchestration, APIs, and the citizen developer.
Architects and developers have been talking about APIs and orchestration for decades. Now, these things are crucial to boosting business agility and enabling “citizen developers.” If information and resources are exposed as a service across the organization, anybody can write, enrich, and encode algorithms — creating new intellectual property for reuse. These citizen developers can make and manipulate what they need in order to enable agile processes, systems, and composite solutions that can be created in a moment, for as long as needed.
As employees quickly adopt new technologies and collaborate globally, they’re an unconstrained force of change. Workers will always look for tools, processes, and approaches to improve efficiency and productivity. By empowering the user, IT takes the leash off this powerful resource — for the good of the enterprise.
Both augmented reality (AR) and augmented information sharing have been available to the enterprise for many years, but the entry point is becoming more accessible today. Tools such as Microsoft HoloLens are finding a home in manufacturing, healthcare, education, and other fields. Similarly, AR brings capabilities such as user support, allowing experts to guide customers through the process of checking, repairing, or installing an item via a remote view.
In the future, augmentation will be extended to larger groups, enabling multiple users to access augmented information with the touch of a finger. Groups will be able to simultaneously edit documents on a virtual whiteboard. Meetings will include real-time summaries of content and next steps, so all participants have a common base of understanding. Augmentation will become more dramatic, with contextual and adjacent information presented in real time and in view of all speakers, based on the context of the conversation. The interface will continue to be external for now, but that could change. Instead of holding or wearing a device, users may one day become the device.
Security and identity.
Security and identity management typically aren’t thought to improve user experience or productivity, but a lack of security can bring productivity to a halt, especially in today’s connected workplace. As we share more information — and share it dynamically — we need to make sure security protocols are baked into every system and every task.
This begins with federation and brokerage of identity. Since disparate systems are unlikely to be connected in a simple manner, organizations must negotiate between users — perhaps using virtual assistants — to verify identities, determine who has access, and determine what can be shared. Further, security systems should be integrated with machine learning and intelligent systems that can identify anomalies and take action when they are spotted.
Connectivity and the rise of the ad hoc community.
With plans already in progress to provide internet service via low-latency, low-Earth-orbit satellites; 5G and beyond wireless technologies; and almost-unlimited cloud storage, the hyper-connected world is fast approaching. In fact, many countries already consider internet connectivity a basic right, on a par with water and electricity. As users, we’ve known this to be true for a long time.
The so-called six degrees of separation that connect all living things is getting tighter, and we recognize the value of community more than ever. Instead of researching a topic, we now look for people working in similar fields or facing similar challenges and create an ad hoc community to complete the task. These project- or task-centered engagements — fueled by the gig economy — exist in the moment and, often, in the cloud.
In this world, partners, suppliers, and customers are the new collaborators.
Learn more about how digital technologies are transforming the workplace here.