In many ways, 2016 wasn’t a great year. Political tensions flared, beloved celebrities passed away, and climate change remained a real global threat. We’re all hoping for better in 2017. But 2016
But 2016 did give us a few bright spots, particularly in the area of tech innovation. Shifts in workflow efficiency that began last year set the tone for vast improvements in the 12 months ahead.
The Gifts of 2016
Slack led the charge against email’s dominance in 2016, at least among early adopter organizations. Even if the company fails to dominate in the long run, it created opportunities for innovating outside the inbox. By giving businesses a platform through which workers can chat, share files, and brainstorm without getting tangled in lengthy email threads, Slack and its peers pioneered a new era in workplace efficiency.
Of course, every innovation comes with trade-offs. These services speed up communication, but they also increase the amount of unstructured information in the organization, which leads to more noise and disruptions. Businesses must be conscious about how they use Slack and similar solutions to leverage them most effectively.
Intelligent bots also became prevalent in 2016. Some, like the recently released Workplace by Facebook, are backed by AI, while others are run by actual people who observe private and group chats to suggest action items based on the content and context of the conversation. Chatbots are gaining popularity in customer service scenarios, in particular, though they may appear more frequently in marketing campaigns and other areas this year.
The Hubot program, for instance, can execute workflows and message users whenever its customizable triggers are initiated. My company uses a bot named Marvin, who was built on the Hubot framework, to initiate IT operations through our internal chats. We also use Slack for efficient communication, relying on the platform’s authentication feature to avoid misuses. We no longer defer to email or ticketing to address problems; we simply use chat to signal issues and get them addressed right away.
Efficiency Through AI
AI will influence workflow efficiencies across all industries in 2017, though some companies are embracing it more ambitiously than others. Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, is developing an AI system that will automate a good portion of the firm’s management. The program will conduct peer reviews and employee testing, as well as influence personnel decisions. The goal is for the Bridgewater system to turn founder Ray Dalio’s “brain into a computer.”
Not all businesses are following Bridgewater’s move toward full-fledged automation, but AI will shape task management and communication in significant ways. Image recognition efforts, such as adding context to photos and interpreting facial expressions, will allow for quicker and more efficient categorization of incoming data. AI will identify typical communication patterns that companies can use to develop effective, timely messaging.
Artificial intelligence can also help professionals find their way through the wealth of unstructured information generated by big data technologies. Smart systems will be able to schedule meetings based on all parties’ calendars, eliminating the need for lots of back and forth about availability. And rather than receive a reminder five minutes before the meeting is about to begin, participants will receive context-dependent alerts. Notifications will account for the meeting’s location, current traffic issues, whether there are Ubers available nearby, and whether driving or taking mass transportation is more advisable.
These platforms will facilitate collaboration, and they’ll create fewer distractions during focused work. Not only will bots schedule meetings and create context-based alerts around them, but they also may propose agendas and extract next actions from meeting minutes. They could also conceivably prepare decision-making materials by collecting and analyzing unstructured information around a specific topic.
The coming advances in collaboration and task management technology will create exciting opportunities to improve workflows and better serve customers. Here’s how to take advantage of these innovations:
- Familiarize yourself with AI aides.
Educate yourself and your team on using Siri, Cortana, or Google Now. If staff members spend a lot of time on repetitive, easy-to-automate tasks, you can boost efficiency by encouraging them to use these technologies. Be thinking about AI in all areas of your business. For instance, make sourcing decisions based on more than just internal/external factors or geography.
Consider the role of human-augmented AI, as well. A 2-year-old child needs only one encounter with an open flame to learn to avoid it, while a computer needs tens of thousands of examples to learn a pattern. At Planorama, we combine human insight with machine learning, using intelligent algorithms to process store visit outcomes, analyze store trends, and assess sales rep effectiveness. We also use real-time sensory data to predict problems and generate strategies for boosting the impact of in-store actions.
- Add bots to your chat systems.
Bots are a simple and extremely effective way of automating repetitive tasks and improving customer experiences. You can also add features to your bots as needed. If you’re unsure how chatbots will fit into your processes, start with a low-level platform and increase your bots’ capabilities as your business grows.
- Follow the developments in collaborative workspaces.
As services such as Slack and Microsoft Teams duke it out for market dominance, end users will benefit from their innovations. We might even reach the holy grail of real collaborative workplaces, in which documents, knowledge, communications, and people are connected in one integrated system. There may soon come a day when everyone has their own personal bots to manage grunt work so they can focus on what really matters with fewer distractions.
With so much progress underway and more advances on the horizon, 2017 looks to be a great year for workflow efficiency. The technology will likely move rapidly as the demand for chatbots and other AI solutions rises, so pay attention and be ready to pivot as more and better solutions become available.
image credit: bigstockphoto.com
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Gabor Veres is the chief technology officer for Planorama, a company revolutionizing in-store measurement and execution in the retail space through its unique image recognition technology. Gabor has 14 years experienced in IT and software management as a software engineer, senior IT manager, VP of engineering, and CTO for companies of all sizes. He has a master’s degree in computer science from Budapest University of Technology and Economics and a double MBA from Purdue University and TiasNimbas Business School. Follow @planoramagroup