Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive
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As we enter a new decade, all aspects of technology will continue to accelerate. Developments in space travel, quantum computing and an increase in the proliferation of software into our daily lives – anything is possible.

Although exciting and newsworthy, most of us won’t experience any of these advancements in our day to day life. But as we spend an increasing amount of time in at work, several tech trends are likely to bring significant innovation and growth in the new year in the office. As part of the ongoing digital transformation of the workplace, improvements in automation, AI and machine learning-enabled analytics will have as big an impact on our lives as the introduction of the internet. While these are trends which have been very much at the forefront of discussion over the last couple years, 2020 looks set to be the year that these technologies make meaningful, but modest changes within the workplace.

  1. Automation – increasingly affordable, increasingly necessary

In just a decade, widespread automation has gone from a vague concept to an unstoppable reality, with entire organisations expected to benefit from a well-considered automation strategy. While there has been tentative uptake of automation, reports show that the effects will start to be felt in the mid-2020s[1].

With the cost of process automation decreasing, it’s becoming a far more attractive opportunity for businesses looking to quickly automate parts of their service. But the challenge for many organisations will be knowing how to get started. In the first instance, automation should be used to relieve employees of repetitive tasks, streamlining workflows, driving productivity and satisfaction. Once businesses have the buy-in of staff and have built a business case, they can turn their attention to more challenging business processes which will deliver a far greater return on investment.

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For instance, automation will enable the marketers of tomorrow to focus more on customer satisfaction and easier results tracking. For HR, it could assist with intelligent process automation (which includes artificial intelligence) and could help deliver consistent operational HR services. And in the finance function, specific trends and developments in robotic process automation, cognitive computing and Internet of Things (IoT) might improve security and reduce administrative error. For example, consider something like an expense form. A once arduous task that involved finding a document, printing it, filling it out and signing it could be made infinitely easier with an intelligent workplace.  An intelligent workplace may provide, for example, an app or an online form so workers can follow an established digital workflow.

  1. AI – from ‘what’ to ‘how’

In partnership with automation and still very much ‘hot stuff’ in the hype cycle is AI. AI’s advancements are enough to warrant its own discussion and the question for 2020 will start to move away from what AI can do and towards how businesses can implement it successfully to get the best out of it.   

AI works best when it is used as an enhancement for jobs done by humans. But the difference is its ability to provide accurate, data driven insights in a fraction of the time, speeding up decision-based processes for employees. In 2020, AI will become the next hot topic – although the biggest investments will be made by large enterprises with the biggest budgets.  While there are seemingly almost no limits to the uses for AI within businesses, 2020 will see organisations really questioning the value of AI and how it can form part of their future.

In other words, the approach to AI will mature. Companies will start to look at their biggest pain points and assess how and if AI can ease them. We will start to see organisations applying it to processes as simple as document workflow management, with a view to minimise human errors, save time and improve data storage and security. Imagine a large enterprise, working with thousands of documents, each with differing levels of security, handled by different parts of the business. Fielding these and ensuring they make it safely to the right people becomes a timely task and when mismanaged, a potential nightmare and a security risk. Implement a simple AI-based document capture solution and you have a solution which can recognise and classify each document and take a decision to route it to the right person in the business. It might not be sexy, but its value is tremendous.

  1. Analytics

With cloud computing, IoT and big data growing, data is getting murky and clouded. Analytics tools utilising machine learning will be needed at a far greater extent than currently implemented to make sense of the data, identify issues and even recommend action.  More specifically, analytics will start playing an even bigger role in helping businesses understand the information they hold.

It’s not news that we are creating data at an unprecedented rate and businesses are the biggest culprits of this. But, with so much content being created, it’s hard to keep on top of what exactly is stored on a companies’ servers. Over the next year, it’s likely that content analytics will become a standard practice in most organisations, providing them with visibility of how much content is created, the nature of it and how it’s being used.

The objective of machine learning enabled content analysis is to gain useful insights from trends across a business’s structured or unstructured data for decision-making, which could help organisations improve information lifecycle management. What’s more, this type of data evaluation will also be key to ensuring they adhere to GDPR and compliance regulations – something that will only become more of a priority for businesses in the wake of jaw-dropping, fines imposed on businesses like BA in 2019.

In the aftermath of the hype around these key technologies, 2020 will be the year we see businesses making practical use of them and implementing them in such a way that they derive genuine value. As with any new technology, security is going to be one of the main considerations ahead of implementation, especially with systems that will be handling sensitive data.

As organisations move past seeing these trends as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ silver bullet, they will be able to carefully consider how they can adopt these new technologies to drive efficiency and enable human workers to invest more time in meaningful tasks, rather than repetitive and monotonous ones.

[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/02/the-outlook-for-automation-and-manufacturing-jobs-in-seven-charts