Technology and the workplace - what will 2019 bring?
What will your workplace look like five years from now? Virtual reality board meetings? Robot assistants? Perhaps you’d be happy with a wireless presentation, or a seamless conference call every now and then.
Recent research from Barclaycard has shown that 42% of UK companies are investing in research and development - indicating a widespread willingness to adopt new technology and agile working to speed up organisational change.
The technological transformation of UK businesses looks set to gather pace in the coming years as four in ten companies look for reliable, long-term solutions to streamline business processes, control costs and increase their competitive advantage.
With change fizzing in the air and a wealth of new and exciting innovations happening throughout the industry, we take a look at some of the key technologies powering the modern workplace and consider where we’re going next.
Whether it’s personalised recommendations on Spotify or Netflix, credit card fraud alerts or customer service chatbots on Facebook, many of us already interact with machine learning on a daily basis. As a branch of artificial intelligence, recent years have seen AI and machine learning increasingly permeate the workplace. With 56% of employers demonstrating a positive view towards automation, where are things going next?
Working with Kira Systems, Deloitte is bringing machine learning into the workplace with technology that can quickly scan thousands of complex documents, picking out key points and clauses in contracts, for example. In the past, an auditor would have done this manually - pulling out representative samples. This also applies in the insurance industry, where algorithms are able to cover underwriting roles. Automating the process can help ensure stronger data pools and less wasted resources. Elsewhere, SAP CoPilot is bringing the chatbots and digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa into the workplace. Imagine if you could ask your smartphone: “What’s our annual spend with Client X?” out loud. A virtual human powered by AI, speech recognition, natural language processing (NLP) and statistical analysis, SAP CoPilot integrates all the apps you’d normally use at work and aims to eliminate the need for manual interaction. In HR, machine learning is being used to understand trends in performance and absence, recommend quality candidates and even craft job descriptions.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
Smart watches, smart coffee machines, smart thermostats: we live in a world of connected devices. In fact, our research shows that three in ten CIOs are piloting or already using Internet of Things solutions in the workplace.
Another projection sees 80 billion networked devices hooked up worldwide by 2025. In the office this could mean many different things as businesses adapt: from smarter access controls, to digital assistants, smart lighting and augmented workspaces which learn employee preferences such as air conditioning levels. Offices will likely be equipped with IoT gateways to manage security and connectivity for of the wealth of devices. Everything in the surrounding environment could communicate without human intervention, with things like logistics reports, performance analytics and reordering stock – no eyeballs necessary.
Amazon Dash provides an example of how integrated IoT functionality could work in the real world. The Amazon Dash replenishment service lets manufacturers build physical Dash buttons into their hardware, allowing users to tap and reorder while the manufacturer collects the data. This could also facilitate continuous replenishment in a business environment. Meanwhile, Alexa for Business helps employees be more efficient with statements and questions like: “Alexa, is this room free?” and “Alexa, join my meeting”. It then collects skills, device and user data and identifies patterns to improve business processes.
Innovations in payments can help reduce fraud, improve customer satisfaction and drive spend. In our study, 78% of CIOs believe they now need a wider skill set to include payment technology and 70% indicated that having more payments data would improve decision-making in their organisations and four in ten say payment technologies are a key focus of their strategies: things like commercial payments, retail point-of-sale systems and virtual cards. Barclaycard Commercial Payments for example, has created a new payments solution to make corporate travel bookings smoother. Precisionpay is a virtual card payments platform that can be embedded into travel agents’ booking systems to process payments and reconcile invoices, generating a single-use card number for each booking which makes it super secure.
Turning to ways businesses can help combat fraud, Barclaycard Payment Solutions has introduced Payment Authorisation Optimisation (PAO). This combines Barclays data together with technology to increase the success rate of the transactions which we process for merchants.
Elsewhere, Barclays Partner Finance recently introduced Sign Anywhere, a digital loan-signing tool designed to streamline the point-of-sale process for customers making larger purchases like cars and furniture.
Another advancement in payment innovation, designed with the hospitality and retail sector in mind is the Barclaycard Smartpay Hub, an electronic point-of-sale system that covers everything from automated stock control to tracking sales and payments. Easy to ‘plug and play’ straight out of the box, it’s a one-stop-shop making it easier for merchants to run their business. Elsewhere, Card Control by Barclays US Consumer Bank is a feature that allows card members to temporarily lock their card as well as create spend controls to restrict who, how and where their credit card is being used.
The human touch
Tools to help us streamline processes and save money are all well and good, but research shows that the most important technologies will be those that assist with collaboration - take Slack, a cloud-based collaboration hub that connects an organisation with all the pieces and the people, and Zoom, a remote conferencing service that combines video conferencing, online meetings, chat, and mobile collaboration. According to a recent Forbes article, it’s not ping pong, great office design or snacks on tap that keeps employees happy (although these things certainly help) - but the ability to connect with one another and share workload. For today’s aspiring professionals, workplace culture and technology are increasingly important when considering career opportunities. All this means that employers need to prioritise technology that facilitates collaboration and connectivity. MiddleVR for example, is virtual reality software which powers multi-user online collaboration, allowing users in different locations, with different VR systems, to share CAD models in true-to-life size before making a prototype. G-Suite at Google recently released Jamboard, a virtual whiteboard which allows users to collaborate on brainstorms from different offices.
Since Johannes Gutenberg created the first movable type printing press back in 1448, communication in the workplace has been steadily evolving, with key innovations like the telegraph, telephone and personal computer enabling colleagues and their customers to share information more efficiently. Following more modern inventions including SMS, email, video and social media, today it means we can have virtual meetings with clients in different time zones, share social updates for our business on the train and even work in the our pyjamas if the mood should take us - 70% of people around the world currently work remotely once a week or more.
We’ve arrived at an interesting point in our working history where technology is encouraging us to be less formal and more conversational, transparent and emotive in our communication. The popularity of virtual workspaces like Slack is seeing us move from communicating in small closed groups to in huge channels organised by team, topic or project. Thanks to Alexa and Siri, we’re getting more and more used to speaking out loud to our technology and hearing it speak back to us in a natural tone designed to put us at ease. In the next few years we are likely to see more of this type of technology and messaging in the workplace.
As highlighted by the Barclaycard-led study, the evolving role of CIOs will be instrumental in driving change in the UK workplace. CIOs aren’t just considering the potential of new technologies, they are actively implementing them. As a group, they are particularly receptive to change and growth, on a personal as well as a business-wide level. 78% believe they need a wider skill-set than they did five years ago.
The way we work and the spaces we work in are changing. It’s clear that the future of our workspaces depends on quality data to help smooth operations and improve efficiency, and technology that helps us connect and collaborate with one another, making our jobs easier - and our coffee faster.