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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 Salesforce.com, 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!

To read our latest views on the Information Management market and the evolving role for Content Services and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – download our presentation from the recent AIIM & Nuxeo Webinar here >> https://www.slideshare.net/MartynChristian/undrstnd-group-aiim-nuxeo-webinar-information-management-solution

 

 

 

“Things Can Only Get Better” was the title of a 1985 anthem by mop haired Brit Pop icon Howard Jones (not to be confused with D:Ream another Brit band who also had a hit with the same title in 1993 which became the theme tune to New Labour’s momentous election win in 1997 that put Tony Blair in power in the UK for over a decade)…….
Although nobody was bouncing around singing or dancing in the aisles at this years Docville 2017 – International Networking Event for the Information Management Industry conference, there sure was a more positive outlook and some real world examples of growth, success and things just getting better I guess.
The conference was held this week in Brussels. Michael Ziegler and Heiner van den Berg did a great job hosting and preparing the event and making it a true networking event and not just endless presentations from sponsoring vendors. I was asked to keynote again this year and took a more upbeat approach than in 2016. I focused on growth strategies for vendors and ISV’s in the ECM, BPM and IM space, and offered some insights and advice on how best to move forward and be successful. The keynote preceded the 15 roundtables that are run continuously throughout the rest of the day and the conference concluded with a series of short summaries of the roundtable findings accompanied by some predictions.
Some key highlights from the roundtable summaries included:

 

  • Digital Transformation – the biggest challenge is getting employees within the vendor community to engage in the change process needed – not necessarily convincing customers.
  • New Solution Selling Model – vendors believe that to grow in the digital transformation world they need a new, more virtual sales process with inside sales, multi-channel marketing tactics and nurturing campaigns based on content marketing disciplines.
  • GDPR – it’s scary and most people don’t really know what it is even though it’s a year from becoming law in the EU with fines of up to 4% of total revenue for infringement.
  • ECM or Content Services? – the audience was split on whether this was an important distinction and definition change in the market or just Gartner trying to make more money from a moribund market segment.
  • Product Portfolio and Branding – it was estimated that in the next 2-3 years 50% of vendors in the community will significantly change their product portfolio (buy or build) or rebrand… or both.

Attendance was strong, I would estimate over 100 attendees for sure and the quality of attendee and dialog seemed to be better than last year when my keynote was a “wake up and smell the coffee” message. Also about 30% of attendees were attending Docville for the first time which is a really positive trend. New vendors and solutions providers coming into the market is a healthy sign. I had one conversation with an incredibly enthusiastic vendor who was building a great new product and wanted to raise money and expand as quickly as possible. It wasn’t like a Silicon Valley event with VC’s jumping all over Stanford MBA’s but it was a positive vibe and I think the ECM community in Europe may just have turned a corner.

 

And as Howard Jones said in his rendition of Things Can Only Get Better…

Future dreams we have to realize
A thousand skeptic hands won’t keep us from the things we plan

Lets hope the dreams of the attendees at Docville this week will all come true!

Martyn Christian
Founder and Managing Partner
UNDRSTND Group