As we head into a new year and a new decade, I thought it was an appropriate time to build on my blog from earlier in 2019 The Future of Work Part 1 and take a look at what might be just around the corner in 2020 as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Digital Workers start to gain traction in real world business transformation solutions and applications.

There is much to think, and maybe worry, about as we enter a new decade with the continued presence of  political and social pressures that would have been hard to predict 10 years ago but are really influencing how people think about technology and if they should be pessimistic or optimistic about what the future holds. The Economist just wrote a year end special report on the contemporary worries of the impact of technology. A very worthy read if you subscribe online or can still find a copy on the shelves.

However, to me the challenge is much clearer and well defined and has been worked on actively by vendors in the ECM and BPM space for many years. The defining trend at the intersection of business and technology over the last 10+ years has been the drive for worker productivity (we could have called it “digital working” I guess – it is the same thing!) especially in white collar processes where costs are high and transformation to new business models hard to execute irrespective of the IT budget companies throw at their challenges. This is where the combination of content and process technologies has real proven impact and can continue to be leveraged as companies under take digital transformation projects to support new business models.

Achieving new levels of white collar worker productivity means making more of the workers more productive more of the time – essentially spreading expertise that used to be resident in one or two departmental “experts” to a much broader number of people but in a simpler and easier to consume way. This spreading, or democratization, of expertise can be achieved through better sharing of information, automation of work tasks and processes and adding intelligence and machine learning to many steps in what used to be manual processes.

Gartner just announced their Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020 and at #3 on the list is what they call the Democratization of Expertise – defined as “wider access to technical expertise (e.g., ML, application development etc.) or business domain expertise (e.g., sales process, economic analysis etc.) for users via a radically simplified experience and without requiring extensive and costly training”

This Gartner definition aligns with some of my thoughts expressed in The Future of Work Part 1 and  I believe the journey to a democratic work environment is going to be long and hard and full of business process automation challenges the many of the people who will read this blog will be very aware of and well prepared for. This combination of technical expertise and business domain expertise is really what information management has always been about.

My view is that in this brave new world instead of working the way some dark technology system says  workers should work, these digital workers will be given the power to work the way that is best for them – best for their customer, their supplier, their business partners – whomever their stakeholders are. The desire of corporations to build fixed business processes that provide predictable outcomes, hard coded into massive systems and technology platforms is breaking down due to AI and Machine Learning technologies. This could be seen as impending anarchy in the workplace, but the tools and skills exist today to bring an appropriate level of structure to digital business processes without constraining the creativity of a new generation of digitally aware workers. The concept of well trained “digital workers” being able to consume the services and application they need, when and how they want, is no longer an information management dream – solutions exist today that help workers collaborate, manage and process all types of work objects and “cases” in the way they believe will generate the best outcomes.

Companies will need to build a digital process environment where workers inside and outside the corporate firewall can pick the apps they feel will help them do their job best. And the chances are that, as with any normal distribution, some people will have the skills and capability to adapt to this new environment very quickly, the majority of people will do “OK” and 20% of the people will struggle to make the transition so this basically becomes a change management challenge more than a technology challenge.

If we make a broad assumption that a large percentage of the 20% that struggle will be retiring in the next 3-5 years then our focus should really be on how to leverage the 20% of leaders to capture their skills and best practices to enable and train the 60% in the middle of the curve.

Normal Distribution Curve

So, tools that offer flexible choices in task selection for digital workers but then map and analyze the best practice and the most productive end to end processes will be in high demand. These will include tools that analyze what information is accessed and when and how to complete a set of tasks with the highest quality outcome. There will also be a need to analyze tasks and map the timeline and sequence of task execution.

Many of these tools exists already, some have been packaged into solutions that focus on specific types of work like insurance claims processing or fraud investigation, others are available to be easily integrated with existing platforms like, SAP etc.

Irrespective of the tools available the key will be the availability of skills and expertise in business process and information management techniques that transcend technology and, although these will need to be upgraded, there are many very well trained and skilled practitioners who already have deep knowledge of how to assemble digital processes and work practices. The AIIM community of professionals has a robust set of best practice, education courses and real world experience than can help organizations large and small in the continued pursuit of white collar productivity and transforming their workforces into true digital workers not just human robots!

Reposted with permission from
Simon Boardman
Verto Advisors

Ten for Twenty

Here’s Verto’s “predictions” for 2020. These are based on some observations from 2019 and our reading of the tea leaves. Just to remind you, while some of these are obviously more serious than others, there’s the constant “hum of humor”. But as we know, just because something strikes us as amusing, doesn’t mean it’s trivial as well.

1. Email’s decline continues. The email engine companies’ attempts to make it more difficult for you to send emails (using their systems) actually starts to pay off…This seems strange as our demand for such systems will also decline, but it would explain why Salesforce has invested zero dollars in Pardot!

2. The conflict between trust and attribution continues to be denied in the race for the undeniable physical evidence of ROI. As some continue the “holy crusade of attribution”, people ignore the notion that trust (or the lack of it) is central to B2B sales and marketing success and that an exclusive focus on attribution drives suspicion of the prospect higher, which drives results and lead yields lower. Suspicion rises, trust declines, demand gen results go south, and the nightmare of denial and recrimination continues.

3The distinction between sales and marketing becomes recognized as increasingly pointless.  Some companies disband both organizations recruiting a new range of professionals but without restricting their thinking by applying outdated labels (like Sales or Marketing). The new departments are called “Sshhmarketing”.

4. LinkedIn Listlessness. Somebody starts a rumor that the only people on LinkedIn are other sales and marketing people AND those trying to sell LinkedIn lead gen tactics, technologies and ideas. Microsoft deny this in a communication that also coincidently offers a webinar series on “Demand Gen ideas that Maximize your Investment in Sales Navigator.” I am reminded that someone recently said that in short order B2B social media marketing would quickly “go the way of the fax machine.”

5. Sales method, enablement and training people wake up and realize that all those assumptions about the rationality of the buyer (that use labels like “economic buyers”) are out of date as humans are apparently irrational (who knew?). They realize that trying to assign reasons for buyers’ behavior based on ideas like fear, desire or obligation (whilst being good thoughts) are impossible to practically assign to individual buyers as anything more conclusive would require a Jedi Mind Trick or Vulcan Mind-Meld (depending on your Star Wars or Star Trek allegiance). This is often because buyers don’t really know the answer themselves, and when they do… guess what? They lie.

6. Enlightened sales and marketing leaders recognize the need for more thoughtful approaches as to how they make decisions regarding marketing strategy, demand gen tactics and sales enablement activities. In other words, some stop following the crowd and listening to people who caveat everything they say with the phrase “best practice”.

7. Some sales leaders stop using the hunter/farmer mentality, instead adopting a team idea that mixes sellers who are willing and able to challenge the contemporary thinking of an organization and upset the status quo (creating demand) with those who are better at working emerging projects with buyers who are moving into a buying cycle (active demand). 

8. Companies (often kids living in their parents’ basement) will continue to develop sales and marketing software whose benefit appears to most of us to be niche (at best) and downright obscure (at worse). Examples would include apps to detect what color shirt the prospect was wearing when they didn’t click on your link, “buyer intent apps” that claim to know what the prospect had for lunch and an on line test that can determine how little most people know about digital marketing tools, despite claiming to be “experts” – superfluous to requirements as we have learned to assume this already. The PE and VC firms will continue to throw money at these until most of these firms join the ranks of the “walking dead” where debt far exceeds what they’ll ever make to pay it off. What the PE and VC guys will realize is that most of these firms don’t have anything compelling, and despite claims to the counter, the founders lack real ambition, don’t want to work that hard and are actually quite happy living cheap in their parents’ basement.

9. After the WeWork debacle, companies will continue to take the idea that “all companies are technology companies” literally and position themselves to be something they obviously are not. We expect to see this in the soft drink space as a global provider positions itself in the technology health drink space (the technology being in liquid form), and fast food chains will emphasize the technology enabled “buying experience” of said food to be paramount rather than the pleasure experienced from consuming said food. The Wall St experts will continue to fall for it (like they did with WeWork) while the rest of us once more wonder whether it’s really us who “just don’t get it”.

10. The 10 Most Annoying Words of 2019 – So here’s 10 words we think established themselves as THE most annoying, misunderstood, badly used, pretentious words usually used in the wrong context in 2019 – feel free to add your own:

  • Pivot
  • Narrative
  • Granular (as in “getting granular”)
  • Juxtaposed (should only be used in discussions on philosophy)
  • Solution (that one just won’t go away)
  • Content …followed by any other word….enough already
  • Holistic
  • Robust (should be reserved for wine only)
  • Cohesion (its the new Synergy)
  • Account Based Marketing (yes, its three words that when used together are actually a category in its own right – well done)
  • Omnichannel

Annoying buzzwords are always good fun to bandy around. I know a few people who play buzzword bingo when they get on conference calls. Sounds AWESOME (hey, there’s another). In all seriousness, we believe language is important and words matter (as does getting them in the right order – to quote an old Monty Python sketch). But joking aside, our careless use of language means we will soon run out of words. Then we’ll have to start putting puerile adjectives or adverbs like “super” in front of everything….ooops.