New Workplace Technologies Offer New Frontiers for Digital Businesses

0914DocuShareArtNew workplace technology equips workers with the tools they need to become more productive, resulting in higher efficiency, reduced business costs and enhanced customer service. In my opinion, and that of many global customers I work with, the workplace is not just evolving, but completely transforming for every organization, across every industry.

There are four key technologies driving this digital transformation — mobile, social, the cloud and big data analysis — and I see the rate of change accelerating over the coming years as organizations fully embrace this opportunity to better serve their customers and optimize their operations.

Mobile

It’s clear that the need for worker mobility is a trend that will not go away. In fact, Gartner predicts that by next year, more than 50 percent of knowledge workers will routinely access their content from a mobile device. In order to maintain control over information that is accessed via mobile devices, employers must give mobile workers a secure, easy way to find files and perform routine business processes. Ideally, these solutions are easily extensible to address all routine business processes, helping every employee complete tasks more efficiently, with greater control and convenience.

Mobile considerations include:

• When employees are accessing information on a mobile device, they aren’t just opening and reading documents. They need the ability to use their phone or tablet to edit, share and search business content. Giving mobile workers access to an enterprise content management system on their mobile device provides the freedom to work as needed with business documents on a secure website, wherever they are.

• Mobile employees also need the convenience to print wherever and whenever business requires. With a secure mobile print solution, workers can easily print documents from the road and pick them up when they’re back in the office. Many mobile printing solutions also have a password-protected release to ensure information doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

• Beyond mobile document-centric activities, workers and organizations alike are seeking new ways to process business transactions — whether it is providing a simple yes-or-no approval or integrating the retail supply chain, from manufacturer to retail outlet.

Mobility is impacting every single industry. For example, healthcare workers spend a large amount of time referencing and interacting with documents from many different devices. According to a study by research firm IDC, half of that time is spent looking for information, and 33 percent of searches are unsuccessful. Like many hospital systems, St. Peter’s Health Care Services was reliant on hard copy documents, and its team of hospice caregivers routinely carried around boxes of paper. The health system implemented an electronic content management system where files are scanned directly into a secure repository that can be accessed from a patient’s home, a remote office, an employee’s laptop or a mobile device. Now staff spends less time looking for supporting information and more time providing client care.

Social

Over the last several years, collaboration in the workplace has been completely redefined as organizations adopt mobile solutions with native or linked social components. In today’s world, it’s not just about sharing ideas; it’s about sharing information in context with teams spread across different offices, networks and even organizations, in order to get the job done as efficiently and transparently as possible. This is greatly simplified as organizations become more digital, but is compounded when age or the organizational makeup is taken into consideration.

Customer service is one area that has changed because of social technology. Many years ago, customers could only reach a contact center agent by telephone, whereas now there are multiple communication channels available based on a users’ preferences. According to a Forrester report, “Understand Communication Channel Needs To Craft Your Customer Service,” millennials are very technology-focused and 41 percent prefer online forms of communication to the telephone; while more than 65 percent of baby boomers would rather call a customer service line and get an answer quickly. Each consumer has a different communication preference and companies are challenged to understand their audiences, adapt their processes, and provide multiple ways for their customers to interact with them whether through email, text messages, online chat or social media channels like Twitter and Facebook.

One of the administrative challenges with the new digital workplace is the power of choice, and this is especially relevant with social interactions. Workers can choose to collaborate and engage using text messaging and personal e-mail, or by specialized apps such as SnapChat to “send and forget” messages and images. In regulated industries especially, these represent a significant liability to the organization; therefore the tools used to interact with employees and collaborate across the workplace are almost as important as the content itself.

One well-established approach is to incorporate collaboration tools into existing enterprise applications such as an enterprise content management (ECM) system. For example, a growing global corporation that acquired multiple new companies was looking for a system to integrate new workers and divisions into one company culture. By deploying an ECM application and using customized microsites across all international divisions, employees could collaborate in an otherwise unfamiliar workplace, engage in online discussions, and securely share project files and information. The tool helped enable teambuilding between existing and new employees and built collaboration between offices.

Cloud  

The key technology that makes mobility and social possible is the cloud. As digital transformation shifts the concept of work beyond the physical and time-bound constraints of an office, it offers both opportunity and risk. The opportunities for customer engagement and organizational optimization are incredibly compelling, but the risks are extremely high too, especially as organizations transition from old work practices to the new digital way of work. For example, most knowledge workers spend a significant portion of their day interacting with information contained in documents. When away from the office or off the company network, many find the easiest way to get the files they need on their mobile devices is by using a public file sharing service or emailing the documents to themselves — ultimately putting company security at risk. In fact, 55 percent of employees admit they’ve sent work email or documents to their personal email accounts on their phones, according to Forrester.

A private cloud content management solution is a secure way to give mobile employees simple and round-the-clock access to the business content they need to get work done. This solution provides all the benefits of mobile, remote and partner access, but without the compliance and security risks of a consumer-grade file sharing application. In addition, by using an enterprise-class system hosted in the cloud, organizations get the necessary connectivity and security out of the box. This way it can integrate seamlessly with existing company infrastructure and help maintain company-wide policies and procedures to ensure continuous compliance. A private cloud solution increases productivity and efficiency in addition to reducing cost and IT overhead.

Big data analytics

We are in the midst of a data explosion as information is increasingly digital, and enterprises and cloud vendors capture data and keep it online for longer periods of time. Even as companies gather and manage this information, many are not equipped to effectively decipher and analyze it. By installing data capture, normalization and analytics tools, companies can make sense of structured and unstructured data to enhance business processes and make smarter business decisions.

Businesses can use analytics tools not just to enhance the customer experience, but also to evaluate their own business environment. Document analytics and workflow assessment tools give organizations an enterprise-wide view into document operations such as printing and storage, as well as document-based business processes and workflows. This helps companies make more informed technology decisions in order to save money and increase productivity. In education, big data analytics can help teachers not just grade their students using intelligent character recognition (ICR) tools, but aggregate findings across thousands of students to identify macro-trends impacting an individual student, or an entire school district.

The real value of big data and analytics becomes evident when working with very large, complex and multi-sourced data sets. In retail for example, supply chain management can be greatly simplified if all stakeholders, from offshore manufacturers to retail store managers, have access to actionable information based on accurate data. A late summer heat wave can translate into significant sales for a retailer if they can quickly get sell-through information to their suppliers, who in turn can spin up manufacturing and pre-book expedited shipping services to ensure popular items are in stock and on the shelves.

These are just a few trending technologies that I believe are impacting every workplace – from corporate offices to health clinics to retail outlets to classrooms. Across the board, social, mobile, cloud and big data can enhance the work environment for employees, enrich the customer experience and drive significant business growth and efficiency. Many companies have already mapped out a plan to implement these new technologies, while some are still trying to navigate this evolution. Overall, it is essential for IT professionals and C-level executives to stay ahead of workplace technology and understand the implications for their organization, to help their business grow and thrive.

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Workflow.