Will the decade we just entered come to be known, once again, as the Roaring Twenties? Will it usher in an era marked by widespread prosperity, global tranquility and social congeniality? Or will it be remembered for something different?
As we enter the new year, there are signs pointing in both directions. But no one ever succeeded by placing their bets on the world ending, so we choose to look at the optimistic side. Yet we do so with the understanding that promising developments sometimes produce unexpected consequences. That said, here are some of the more important developments in technology on the near horizon — developments that promise to impact the workplace and our lives going forward:
First-generation automation typically involved using robotic machinery to accomplish repetitive tasks formerly done by people. It’s now time to make room for hyper-automation, which involves stacking multiple machine learning software packages on top of automation tools to produce more advanced types of work. We see that emerging as a major force in the ‘20s.
Best-of-breed AI tools will likely come from different vendors. In a worst-case scenario, that could result in a high-tech tower of Babel with conflicting codes and operating systems impeding one another. To realize their value in combination, there will need to be plug-and-play compatibility between different platforms and suppliers — something that is still a work in progress.
Now here’s the sensitive part: How does hyper-automation relate to an organization’s human workforce? Does it replace workers? Or does it simply change the nature of their workflow? Hyper-automation’s key attribute is that it loops humans into the process, leading to what some see as a collaborative effort.
Here’s how Jacob Morgan put it in this Harvard Business Review piece:
“Artificial intelligence is becoming good at many ‘human’ jobs — diagnosing disease, translating languages, providing customer service – and it’s improving fast. This is raising reasonable fears that AI will ultimately replace human workers throughout the economy. But that’s not the inevitable or even most likely, outcome. Never before have digital tools been so responsive to us, nor we to our tools. While AI will radically alter how work gets done and who does it, the technology’s larger impact will be in complementing and augmenting human capabilities, not replacing them.”
We prefer to think they’re right.
Accelerated Digital Transformation
The digital transformation of all types of industries is well underway. We see that continuing and even accelerating during the new decade. Much of that transformation has been enabled by enterprise-scale SaaS applications, which are now available for essentially every element of business management: enterprise resource planning, database services, human resources, finance, big data analytics, customer relationship management and more. It is a huge business, involving such major suppliers as SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics and Salesforce, and it represents hundreds of billions of invested dollars.
Most organizations undertake digital transformation to increase operational efficiencies and cut costs. It’s about harnessing technology to improve business models, operational efficiency and the customer experience.
In retail, for example, real-time location systems can help a business track its customers, assets and inventory. And on the shop floor, sensors are being used to improve process efficiency. However, successful transformation requires buy-in from company staff. Yet the levels of satisfaction with those investments are frequently disappointing, with many intended users rejecting or failing to make good use of the systems.
Digital Adoption Solutions
There are lots of reasons employees are sometimes slow to adopt new enterprise technologies, forming a barrier to successful implementation. Whether it’s the need for more training to use the system effectively or time-consuming data entry, there are many reasons why digital adoption fails.
So we envision a companion industry growing in tandem with enterprise software — digital adoption solutions, or DAS. The aim is to accelerate employee adoption by cutting through the complexity of a company’s enterprise systems and integrating real-time, context-sensitive, on-screen prompts into an application. Its step-by-step guides help users navigate their systems more quickly and with greater confidence.
Elevated Employee Experience
The contours of the workforce in the world’s advanced economies have changed, which is prompting different approaches to employee training and retention.
In response, we see significant efforts by employers to improve the employee experience. An increasingly important element of that engagement involves recognizing remote workers. Since 2005, there’s been a 159% increase in remote work. Providing the right technology, equipment and recognition programs helps to ensure higher levels of remote workforce success. Learning to effectively manage a growing remote workforce is a pattern we see expanding throughout the coming decade.
Learning In The Flow Of Work
2019 witnessed companies meaninglessly adopt new learning technologies in a rush to become agile. However, employees looking to find learning content often faced a large amount of clicks on these enterprise applications to get them where they needed to go, resulting in a lack of user adoption and employee retention.
While this challenge was unbeknownst to many companies, global industry analyst Josh Bersin identified a new concept called “Learning in the Flow of Work,” a technique that treats learning in the workplace as a continuous process.
According to Bersin, “Learning in the flow of work is a new idea: it recognizes that for learning to really happen, it must fit around and align itself to working days and working lives. Rather than think of corporate learning as a destination, it’s now becoming something that comes to us. Through good design thinking and cutting-edge technology, we can build solutions and experiences that make learning almost invisible in our jobs. One could argue that Google and YouTube are two of the earliest ‘learning in the flow’ platforms, which we now take for granted.”
Over the next decade, technology will only continue to accelerate at its furious pace, and this will inevitably affect employees and how they perform their jobs.