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The Future of the Workplace: Technology

August 11, 17
The Future of the Workplace: Technology

The changing face of technology will impact the way we work. In fact, advances in networking, virtual spaces and the Internet of Things are already providing solutions to agile workplaces that are quick to adopt elegant processes in company workflow. We look at how our future workplaces will function, and how technology will continue to play an important role in shaping the way we behave in both the physical and digital workspace.

Virtual and augmented realities

How we conceive and perceive the world around us is changing. From the physical spaces we inhabit to the collaborative spaces that exist virtually across digital platforms - it all points to one big trend ready to disrupt the workplace, as the rise of virtual and augmented realities in business progresses. What VR and AR can do for industries continues to be an ongoing process of discovery. In many ways this is a new frontier, with the industry all set to revolutionise and reimagine much of what we consider normal.

Reality, reimagined

Everything from design, medicine, manufacturing and engineering will see vast benefits from digital overlays and virtual headsets. Raconteur points to Microsoft's HoloLens and it's ability to "overlay reality with solid looking holograms." This is as a potential game-changer in conference and team collaboration, as well as product demonstration and prototyping. We'll be able to test drive virtual cars, 'see' a virtual video conferencing screen on a wall and move it to the opposite wall with the flick of the wrist, collect information from augmented touchpoints and engage in interface relationships with technology assets, to a greater degree of precision and immersion.

Enterprise augmentation

In the workplaces of the near future, industry leaders will implement VR and AR technology across a diverse range of portfolios:
  • Augmented warehousing with virtual tagging will provider higher density information on stock locations and volume.
  • Contractors will host client meetings in completely virtual meeting spaces.
  • Early adopter customers will access early prototypes and demos through VR and AR spaces.
  • AR will provide new horizons for advertising and marketing.
  • Augmented workplaces employ higher security to reduce cost and stress to staff through passive and embedded overlays for asset allocation, resource hiring and access to premise, all powered by simple smartphone client apps.

Internet of Things in the workplace

Powering many of the innovation trends in technology is the idea of the Internet of Things. Touted for a few years now as a way to 'connect the world' by networking devices, sensors and touch points to collect data, interact with the physical environment and democratise the internet, IoT is a big technology paradigm made of billions of tiny devices. Key to understanding IoT's impact on the future workplace is the notion that a computer can be more (and less) than a laptop, desktop or phone. Consider:
  • Interconnected temperature sensors in a fabrication factory
  • Automated logistics drones
  • Driverless vehicles
  • Virtual Assistants like Alexa (Amazon)
  • Robotic lifters, packers and pickers.
As technology gets leaner, smaller and more efficient, we're able to connect together more and more devices, and find better ways to automate and coordinate them. More than any other trend (or perhaps encompassing every trend) The Internet of Things is the technology paradigm that will power new technology trends.

Big Data decision making

Powered by the Internet of Things, Big Data lets businesses collect information from a variety of touchpoints for better visibility and evidence based decision making across business process. With bigger tech companies already using Big Data, the trend points to other industries taking up the mantle to gain a competitive edge in future markets. Key to success with big data is the ability to make meaningful metrics and structure from raw, instructed data. Information can come from many sources, both digital; like heat mapping and web analytics, or physical; like warehouse and office sensors. Companies that ignore the benefits of Big Data risk running cost-inefficient workflows and operations, but the real winners will be companies that don't just implement IoT sensors and capture data, but make sense of it for measurable benefits and meta-automation across emerging technologies.

Web first project management

Through agile workplaces, the proliferance of SaaS technologies and cloud hosted resources, future facing brands are prioritising web first as the foundation for collaborative project management. Companies are de-centring the physical office as integral to reaching project goals. Whether working together in a physical space or collaborating remotely, teams will use the same web first tools to track and manage projects. These tools will remain internet facing platforms regardless of where the interaction takes place, and remain central to technology workflow in future businesses.

Freelance free-for-alls

The percentage of the workforce that freelances has been steadily rising for several years now. In Australia, our time zone difference to the rest of the English speaking world offers up challenges and benefits for remote workers. Similarly, a proximity to Asia also reveals opportunities for translators and other intermediary businesses to provide essential services in a globally competitive market. In America, it's estimated that around 52 million people freelance in some capacity. It's clear that technology is not only making it easier for work teams to achieve through collaboration software, but for contractors to find better work/life balances by diversifying their work. Platforms like UpWork and Freelancer make it easier for small organisations to find quality and reliable freelance workers, but the future workplaces will do more than just outsource labour to third party providers. With the focus on agile teams and adaptability, some companies will be comprised almost exclusively of freelancers who act upon workflows as an ongoing and adaptable set of projects, rather than a fixed goal or business identity. Emerging from these new business methods, we see options beyond the regular pay packet for salary for time. Options like brand equity, unlimited vacation time and key actionables are helping define the why and how of we work into the future.

Chatbots are the new virtual assistants

Siri's been around for a while, and now we're seeing the emergence of other virtual intelligences like Alexa (Amazon), Cortana (Microsoft), Watson (IBM) and Google Assistant, many of which are now able to interact through chat interfaces. VI is only becoming more powerful. What started as a gimmicky way to cue up a song on your phone without having to use the keyboard is now operating as an underlying architecture on most operating systems. Cortana is already integrated into Windows 10, and Google Assistant lives inside smartphones and tablets that use Android. You can even ask it questions in a chat with friends on Allo by simply typing @google, a mere sample of what this compelling technology will provide in the future.

What can chatbots do for business?

Realising the potential of virtual assistants will be an ongoing process for the next few years, but the trend is to use VI for anything from customer service to scheduling and automating. For a small business that can't afford it's own customer service team, this could be a boom. Integrated into chat apps like Messenger or through the website as a pop-up, customers will soon be interacting with chatbots regularly, automating much of the repetitive busywork that comes with customer service.

Advanced API adoption across business and eCommerce

Application Program Interfaces are the technology that allows modern software and SaaS platforms to engage, interact, embed and share with each other. While some software companies have been resistant to open up to API integration, current trends heavily favours the use of advanced APIs to make better functioning systems, particularly for businesses adopting agile methodologies in their workplace.

APIs are the way software does business

Simply put, every business has it's own needs and, short of being in the software business yourself, there's unlikely to be a platform that completely meets every technology need. Instead, we increasingly rely on coordinated suites of software. Advanced APIs are how our diverse software portfolio communicates, shares data and automates across platforms. The importance of advanced API behaviour becomes apparent as Big Data and IoT push the value of structured, meaningful data to greater ROI. Companies that rely heavily on manual data entry or information sharing won't keep up with the marketplaces of the future. Instead, we'll see smart companies operating under agile frameworks take the lead, by utilising APIs to embed and share information faster and with greater fidelity.

Driverless vehicles to drive company change

While personal transport might be the most visible version of automated travel, businesses will also benefit from driverless vehicles powered by cloud integrated artificial intelligence. Warehousing and logistics, from driverless forklifts to the drone delivery systems trialled by Amazon will save man hours and make workplaces safer and more efficient. Other logistical areas like fleet cars will also change. Instead of needing to store the corporate fleet, onsite companies can value add by turning their vehicles into 24-hour service vehicles when not in use. As driverless vehicles disrupt the division between public and private travel and drive new ideas both in town planning and social behaviours around driverless vehicles, business opportunities will open up for savvy companies to capitalise on. Just like the automobile industry spawned several adjacent industries in safety, quality and design.

Cybersecurity at the forefront of future developments

Intrinsic to many of the current trajectory of technology is the amount of trust we place in our devices to automate and augment our lives. The more reliant we become on our digital futures, the more indistinguishable they become from the rest of our world. This is especially true in IoT, where the devices themselves can be tiny, don't have screens or don't necessarily resemble our conservative ideas of a computer. The sheer volume of interconnected devices predicted (6.4 billion in 2016, according to Garner) and the race to commodify and best value devices could put many businesses at risk from cyber security threats before we're even aware of it.

The greatest threat to technology and business

In fact, cyber intrusions are increasingly costing businesses, from lost data and compromised business secrets to service interruptions and damage to brand equity, cybersecurity will continue to present a complex conundrum to businesses and consumers. Forbes estimates cybersecurity intrusions could cost businesses around the world up to $2 trillion by 2019. How we deal with digital security will largely depend on the needs of the business. Just as SaaS and cloud hosting has exported a lot of capital costs from individual businesses, and economised them at scale in high performance technology companies, many businesses will also minimise the damage of cyber security by simply not storing sensitive information on their servers. Instead, they will rely on the expertise of internet companies to provide better security.

Minimising IoT cybersecurity risk through cooperation

Exporting data storage to third party experts won't solve every cybersecurity risk. Beyond needing to store sensitive information somewhere, there are also physical events that can be triggered by cyber attacks. In an IoT connected office, where even the lightbulbs are accessible as data collection touch points, there remain real risks of intrusions that could potentially shut down facilities, open doorways, turn off critical systems or simply cause havoc for staff and customers. In the workplaces of the near future, there is a renewed focus on how to better safeguard all access to company assets. From on premise to digital and remote workspaces, we'll see technology leaders drive change through innovation in both security processes and software, with a focus on agility and faster iterations to better manage patches and updates. If to you this seems like a problem too big for any one company to tackle, then you'd be right. When it comes to cybersecurity, it's going to take a concerted effort from the entire business community to manage risk, meet compliance, and create trust and assurance across better functioning networkings.

Forward focus: a user experience for everybody

User experience examines how users interact with an asset and how, using measurable data, it can be improved to provide a better experience. Previous iterations of UX philosophy have focused on the customer and circled largely around their digital interactions via a webpage or application. In future focused UX, we'll see companies employing these same concepts across more aspects of business. Just as UX ties into agile software development methodologies, a broader UX paradigm is emerging in part as a response to more agile workplaces. User experience as a definition now ecompasses everyone who interacts with a service, from staff to customers, guests and visitors. With enterprise leading the way, UX will continue to push better digital design of software, websites, IoT devices and customer journeys across mixed channel media. Just as architecture and design influence construction and manufacturing, UX features both early phase development and ongoing / iterative. As Daniel Newman recently noted in Forbes: "A top-notch user experience is a fantastic way to keep customers involved and engaged with your brand. This is a comprehensive process. Anywhere and everywhere customers can interact with your business, the experience must be consistent and positive...Every touch point matters."
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