As a Sci-Fi fan, I watch many movies that showcase Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the future, and usually the narrative becomes one of humans battling machines in a race to survive. Granted this isn’t always the case, but it seems to happen more often than not. This causes many to question the ethics of AI and whether we should be pursuing our attempts to create something that has the potential to advance beyond what we are capable of. I think the point where AI will advance to that state is still some way off, but that is a topic I will cover in a later blog, especially around the ethics of AI.
We do however have interactions with AI and machine learning now that help to make our lives just a little bit easier. Let me give you an example; my wife turned to me after she’d finished her call somewhat puzzled, saying that the person that called her wasn’t a contact in her phone, but the phone suggested that the call might be from “John Appleseed”. She then asked how the phone could know who might be calling.
I explained to her that her phone will search through messages and emails and if that person‘s number and name appear together in any of these places a number of times, then through Machine Learning and AI, it can make reasonably accurate predictions.
My wife was quite taken about a back by this as she started talking about Big Brother, privacy and security but I do think that these capabilities and functions in our technology do help to make us more productive and improve our user experience. AI and machine learning also play an ever increasing role in the workplace.
The office I working in has multiple technologies that come together to form a modern workplace. As an example we have digital signage giving us messaging and updates on what’s going on in the business, we also have meeting rooms where we can either use monitors to project content from our devices or we can use video conferencing to enhance our remote meetings.
We have the ability to hot desk across multiple floors which can lead to the issue that if you don’t get into the office early enough, or if more people decide to work in the office than normal then it can be difficult to find a desk.
The biggest challenge these technologies and capabilities have is they are mostly disparate and disconnected thereby reducing the productivity and experience of users. One of the things I believe will happen in the medium to long-term is the consolidation of these technologies coupled with AI and Machine Learning will provide a more cohesive and coherent experience, let me give you an example.
If I get up at 6 o’clock in the morning my phone will tell me that the journey time to the office will take me an hour and 10 minutes. If I get up at 7 o’clock, the phone will tell me that the journey to the boys school will take 10 minutes, so clearly my patterns are being learnt and understood by my smart devices.
Now imagine this capability being connected to all of those ecosystems and technologies in the workplace. Imagine that when I get up at 6 o’clock in the morning and my phone tells me that the time to the office will take an hour and 10 minutes and I simply touch or confirm by voice that I am going into the office, it automatically books me a hot desk (or tells me there is no space to save a wasted journey) as well as booking a video capable meeting space as by looking at my calendar the AI determines that I have to do a video conference later on in the day.
Then as I walk into the office, either CCTV using facial recognition or proximity using the device I carry, the Digital Signage changes to tell me where my hot desk is and what meeting room has been booked for that day. As I approach my hot desk the chair automatically adjusts to my preferred settings along with that the monitors and keyboards altering height, brightness etc to my usual settings.
We can see how this kind of experience will change the way that we use our workspaces as AI, Machine Learning and connectivity between ecosystems adapt and evolve over time.
When we think about the technology and interconnections across systems that are required to realise this outcome, we see that architecting the systems or choosing the solutions that we deploy will become a much more holistic task, and require both our own organisations and those that we work with to have a broader skill set and capability than ever before.
AI = Smart?
I attended the ISE 2020 show last week in Amsterdam where we discussed topics such as 5G and Edge Computing, AI and Machine Learning, Smart Cities, Smart Buildings and the increasing role that human centric design will have in all of these solutions.
I’m planning to blog more about these topics over the coming weeks as they are each huge topics in their own right, but I think for the short term, we will see more and more capability being put into Buildings, Workplaces, Cities, Cars, etc. Machine Learning and AI will be integral to this. The danger sometimes is that we try to be too smart and over engineer or create solutions that are either too difficult to use, have no value to the people that use them most or are just not cost effective.
When designing solutions ask yourself what is the problem we are seeking to solve? Or What opportunities can we create? And think also about what behaviours will change or need to change. Using our intelligence coupled with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will give us the best of both worlds and a future where we aren’t being hunted by robots.
Have you ever been in that meeting about a meeting? In the busy lives that we lead, having unnecessary meetings puts a great burden on our valuable time and resources. What is worse is that often those meetings are not as productive as they should be due to the meeting space used and/or the technology provided, whether this be physical or virtual.
It is estimated that $37 Billion per year is spent globally on unproductive meetings and 15% of an organisation’s collective time is spent in meetings, and this has grown annually since 2008
The problem is the one meeting about a meeting that should be taking place rarely happens. That’s the meeting with all the parts of the organisation which are involved in deciding how the meeting and collaboration spaces should look and function.
More Than Just a Room
When we think about the how and where people work, what the culture of the organisation is and the technology strategy employed, you can see that a variety of groups and stakeholders need to work together to provide input into the strategy around meeting rooms and collaboration spaces. I often engage with HR, Facilities, IT, End User Teams and of course the users themselves to ensure that we have a consolidated and agreed strategy leading to a better user experience.
It is imperative that the modern workplace with its diversity of collaboration tools, from the user devices through to the meeting rooms and collaboration spaces, enable a consistent user experience. Failure to do this often means that users become frustrated, efficiency and productivity drops, and meeting and collaboration spaces become a hindrance to productivity rather than an enabler.
In addition, all collaboration and meeting spaces need to have consistency across geographic locations and room type or size, enabling your users to be productive wherever they may be. But to ensure all of these elements work for your users, the end-to-end experience, from booking a meeting or collaboration space through to finding and using the space must be easy and intuitive, and this too is sometimes neglected.
Know Thy Space
Common problems that companies experience are Meeting spaces being the wrong type and size; often I see large meeting rooms with 2 people in them or vice versa, Meeting spaces show up as being booked yet a walk around the building shows many rooms unoccupied, further adding to the cost of unproductive meetings. People often search for meeting rooms if they don’t often use that particular office and can arrive late or flustered leaving them in the wrong mindset to be fully productive.
As space becomes more of a premium, better use of what you currently have, or changing the configuration of existing rooms becomes invaluable in getting the best usage and driving effective collaboration and meetings.
To help organisations drive toward a better collaborative meeting experience, Computacenter provide an advisory service called “Meeting Spaces Assessment Service” (MSAS).
The service provides guidance on how best to shape and drive collaboration and meeting spaces based on the following criteria:
- Understanding what is currently in place for the meeting and collaboration spaces including booking tools and room surveys
- Examine the current tools being used and how these fit into the wider collaboration strategy
- Have that meeting about meetings that really matter and bring the necessary stakeholders together to agree the approach
- Speak with people who use the rooms and understand what opportunities there are to enhance the collaboration and meeting spaces
- Provide clear guidance and costs associated with driving these changes into the business
We understand the challenges associated with enabling users to collaborate and engage across multiple devices, locations and technologies, and can help to solve these. Your employees won’t need to keep having unproductive meetings about meetings, if you have that one meeting about all meetings, and set up your collaboration and meeting spaces to provide a great, consistent experience and enable your users to be more productive.
If like me you like to travel, one of the things that makes visiting other places so interesting is experiencing the culture and customs of the country or area that you visit. Seeing how the culture shapes the food, drink, ambience, way of living, work and human interactions add richly to the experience you have. Many times when I’m on holiday or travelling, I see people who limit their enjoyment as they don’t want to experience or embrace that difference of culture, which can even lead to confrontation or misunderstandings.
One of the reoccurring discussions I have with customers is how investing in what they believe to be the right technology does not always result in the outcome that they expect. In general people’s expectation of technology is that it just works, which for the most part it does. I have been in to see customers where I absolutely agree that the technology is the correct choice for their business, however a number of factors mean that users do not adopt or use the technology. This reiterates the point that digital transformation of the workplace or business is far more than simply selecting and deploying a solution or the latest technology.
Culture in the workplace
One of the most overlooked aspects of the workplace is the culture that is built both within teams and across geographic regions. The workplace now has more generations working within it than ever before, but labelling people and culture by age or geography simply doesn’t work. Most businesses will have people of all ages and backgrounds working for and with them, culture builds the bond that enables and shapes team interaction and output. Consumerisation of IT also drives and shapes this culture organically within the workplace. An overriding effect on the culture is that of the leadership and management of these teams and this has the potential to have a detrimental impact on any transformation in the business.
One customer that I worked with had created a vision of remote working for the majority of the business, providing remote access tools and virtual desktops to facilitate a “work from anywhere culture” however, my engagement with the business lead me to ascertain that only about 20% of people were using the solution to work remotely. the business asked me “Why?”
Computacenter run an advisory service called Workstyle Analysis which involves interviewing users to understand what they do, how they work and the challenges that they face doing their role. We can also back this up with analytics to provide qualitative and quantitative feedback to help build a picture of the workplace. In this particular instance, it was found that the technology worked and provided the functionality that people required. However, some people crave the social bond that physically working in a team and with people creates, additionally their managers expected to see them at their desks and would make disparaging remarks when people decided to work from home or remotely. In addition, some of the tools provided for collaboration and communication were not adopted, as the culture that some of the users had grown into or accepted was that people needed to be together, face to face to “get things done”.
Now whilst some of the culture was driven by people’s background and life experience, the overriding one was that of their managers. If someone wanted to embrace the new culture or experiment with new ways of working, much like those who refuse to allow cultural experience to enhance who, what and how they see things; those managers were causing conflict and tension – and stopping meaningful change within the business.
This is not an uncommon problem that I see when engaging with customers, so in order for digital transformation to work, senior stakeholders in the business need to ensure that the culture of the workplace is a key factor that is taken into account as much as the technology solutions to ensure better success and the expected business outcomes.
Shaping the future
Culture is also important in the workplace for the following reasons:
- The culture reflects on the ability of the company to realise its promises and commitments. If the company stated core values are not reflected in the culture of the business, the seriousness of stated promises can be devalued
- The company culture shapes how potential and current employees view the company. People want to feel part of the culture at work, so it is vital to build or shape a culture that attracts talent and retains those already there
Of course there are times when culture needs to be adapted or shaped to help drive modernisation or digital change, but understanding the culture first is a vital component to helping drive meaningful and productive change.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of a difference of culture within the business, ask yourself, can I be more accepting and understanding of the nuances of culture within the workplace; if you are the one driving the change, ask yourself, do I truly understand the workplace culture and what that means to those who embrace it, so that I can help effect business change for the better.
As we move through life, many of us will pick up sayings that we have heard along the way, whether from our parents, friends or otherwise. Sometimes though these sayings conflict with one another and have the potential to leave you in a quandary.
For instance, let us take the following two examples: “Stick to what you know” and “Change is good”
On the surface of it you have two sayings that could be used to influence your business strategy. At a second glance, it also seems that the two are in conflict with each other. But lets briefly examine the two sayings in context and walk through the thought process of each and see what we can learn from this, and indeed whether the two statements are actually contradictory.
Stick to what you know!
Many people I have spoken to when asked about a strategy to help the business develop and keep pace with the modern world in which we live, simply continue to do things the way they have always done because traditionally it has worked. Nothing wrong with that on the surface of things, why change a tried and tested method. The issue comes about when the market dynamic (both employee and customer) starts to change and puts the business in danger of appealing to a ever decreasing audience. Where in the past business was done face-to-face (as in actually being there), the market has now shifted away from this with people looking at and ordering products online rather than venturing out of the door. Depending on your business, this also means you might not need a physical space that has to be manned, so again providing tools to enable staff to work effectively from wherever makes good business sense; why rent a plush office if staff can work from home or another location.
Obviously this will not work for all companies, however those who not only survived the challenging market conditions but flourished, have actually applied both sayings in their business; stick to what you know and change is good.
Change is Good!
Certain elements of business need not change, if you provide good customer service, at a great price with a quality product and that works for you, why would you change it? The change comes in how you enable your business to provide the things that you are good at and known for, to the widest audience whilst reducing costs. Sounds like a pipe dream? Unified communications and collaboration technology enable businesses to do just that, leveraging the strengths of a business but enabling technology to drive business outcomes and ultimately increase revenue. As an example, look at businesses such as Amazon and eBay, primarily product sales to a large userbase using unified communications and collaboration technology.
An eBay user can use a number of devices to upload and make available content such as words and pictures in order to achieve sales, add into the fact that you can also transact payments from these devices really highlights the any device, any where, any time world that we have all come to live in. Using these technologies as well as others such as voice and video over the internet to drive that return to face-to-face communication and great customer service helps to drive customer retention and increased sales.
So in effect, stick to what you know – do the things that you have always done well, but do them better; but change is good – you might just need assistance in using some of the newer tools available to build and accelerate your company growth and performance and reach a wider audience and empower employees. Thats where we come in; looking at your business goals and aims, speaking with different part of the business to understand the pain points you experience right now, coupled with understanding where you are going allows us to provide a Unified Communications and Collaboration assessment service to you, a customised roadmap service helping you to get where you want to be.
IOS vs Android, Windows vs OSX, Cisco vs Polycom; you could insert any two competing technologies or companies into a sentence and the chances are that in an office or pub somewhere, someone is having a debate about which is better and why. Marketing companies go into overdrive to advertise the features and functionality of product X, or other subjective testing takes place to validate why vendor or manufacturer Y is better than Z or vice versa.
Generally we seem to buy into this mentality, driven by features and functionality of gadgets and products for home, car or office; many get sucked into a series of perpetual upgrade cycles driven by brand loyalty and feature sheets. Its no wonder then, that when it comes to customers purchasing IT and especially unified communications and collaboration (UCC) technologies, that there is a constant fixation on features and functionality.
Don’t get me wrong, features and functionality are important, but they must be addressed in the correct manner. I have seen far too many times where technology, features and functions have been shoehorned into a solution for a company, had next to zero uptake or a protracted user adoption period, purely because someone believed that the more features and functions technology has, the better it must be. This cycle has to be broken to truly derive business benefits from a UCC solution.
What should I choose?
When talking to a customer, one should never start talking about technology before truly understanding what the customers goals and objectives are, or what business problem(s) or compelling event is driving the necessity for change. Technology can provide a solution to enable businesses to be more competitive, or more agile or more anything, but without the context of customer requirement and a solid business understanding, technology is simply that…..technology.
Look beyond the technology, get to understand the real drivers behind any required changes, don’t fall for the marketing hype or feature list. Investing in IT solutions is not like buying a phone or a computer for personal use. The decisions made at this level affect the ability of the company to execute against business plans, to empower and enable staff, to communicate with customers and partners, in essence all of these things to enable businesses to make money. Investing in solutions purely from a capability perspective will not necessarily reap the expected rewards or benefits.
Another major factor in the success of the solution is enabling ease of adoption within the user community, but that’s a discussion for another blog.
Both as a consumer and as a service provider, look at where the business is at right now, examine where you want to go in the future. Document the expectations of the business in everyday terms, i.e. “I want to grow market awareness of the business“, “I want to increase sales of x by a factor of y” or “I want to improve customer service”.
The basic business requirements in everyday speak can then be mapped to a technology stack or solution that enables those business drivers, it should always be done that way. Once the business drivers have been identified, how you might achieve those can be mapped out to a solution that enables the business to move to the target state. This is where Computacenter can help; not being aligned to any vendor, our desire is to help our customers achieve their goals. We have a dedicated UCC team with the ability to assist in creating roadmap services around not just UCC but all technology stacks. We can help turn those business goals into a solution that is the best fit for your company, but also with the realisation that moving towards those goals may required a number of steps; we are here to help you on that journey.
Raising a child has been one of the proudest moments of my life, and being a fan of technology and gadgets it was a given that my son would follow in my footsteps. Now my son is not even 3 years old yet, but give him an i-device and he is more than capable of navigating it to find and use what he wants. The thing is, he expects everything to work like an i-device. He touches and swipes on the TV screen and wonders why nothing happens and expects everything with a screen to respond to swipes and touches.
His frustration at the lack of continuity across devices reflects what I see and hear from customers with regard to unified communications and collaboration. I get questions such as “why can’t I perform what should be an easy task on device x that I can do on device y?” or “why do I have to do things differently at work from at home to get the outcome I require?“
The consumer world will always be more integrated and support a larger number of devices and features than corporate environments and this causes frustration, especially to the younger workers; this is for many reasons which we will not discuss here, but the way many modern businesses work restricts the adoption, interoperability or functionality of many modern collaborative tools and in turn their employees productivity, but that’s a subject for another blog.
What I like about i-devices is their ease of use, my son at 2 years old observed me using these devices and picked up the use of them pretty much instantly. Much of that comes down to the way that the user interface works. The other factor which is not specific to i-devices is that the user experience appeals to the senses to engage the user; I see and then I touch and something happens, sometimes visually, sometimes auditory or sometimes both, pretty much like reality. The virtual environment on the screen responds to your interactions just as you’d expect from the real world.
If we extend that to a wider audience, we get a similar experience with most of the tools that we use today, telephones all work in pretty much the same way, numbers remain the same, dialling is the same, email, text messaging, facebook, twitter etc. All function similarly in that the backend infrastructure can be accessed on many devices, be they tablet, phone or computer to provide mostly the same functionality regardless of the device used.
You could argue that it really doesn’t matter what device you use to create or access resources and information, as today most devices are good enough, and the user experience created by the application user interface is what separates a successful platform from an average one. Forcing people to change the way that they are and the way they work is not conducive to productivity. From my experience, good applications provide the best user interfaces to suit the device that the application is being accessed from. This is where I believe the future of unified communications will be. The device will simply become a tool that allows us to do what it is we want and need to do. The user interface and how it allows the user to access whatever, whenever will be the differentiator moving forward. Personally I can use pretty much any device to access what I need, what bothers me is badly written user interfaces which prevents me from doing what I need to do or precluding me from accessing something because I don’t have the right device.
The challenge for application developers is to ensure that your user interfaces are usable and intuitive and that the back end protocols are inter-operable with other vendors; the challenge for Computacenter? Working with you to help guide innovation, change and collaboration without disrupting the workplace and making everything work seamlessly in the background so you don’t have to……