I am writing this blog sitting in one of the more unique locations for an industry trade meeting that I have ever experienced – The Churchill War Rooms in London. You can always rely on AIIM and its President Peggy Winton to pick interesting places to draw a crowd. My previous AIIM Advisory Trade Member (ATM) experience in London was held inside of Tower Bridge! Being in London at the height of all the Brexit drama and debate does make you feel a bit like heading for a military bunker but we are not here to discuss Brexit (thank goodness) but rather to apply some serious information management experience and talent to the future of our industry and more importantly to The Future of Work itself! 

I am fascinated by the intensity of debate on the future of work. Recently I attended a presentation by the politico-economist Paul Mason on the future of work and his new book The Radical Defence of the Human Being. I have reviewed AIIM’s latest report on the Digital Workplace by John Mancini (excellent video summary by John >> here) and numerous articles in The Economist and more mainstream press. The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and other technology solutions are leading to a fascinating overlap of discussions that range from the technocratic to the wider social impacts. 

In my opinion, the future of work and the emergence of the digital workplace is possibly the number one issue facing both businesses (large and small, global and local) and their technology vendors. The very serious social and economic issues associated with how people will work in the future, the replacement of human tasks by “robots” (of both the physical and virtual type) and the relentless trend toward online commerce and services are creating critical questions that essentially remain unanswered. 

So, what did the information management industry’s leading vendors at the London meeting think the answers are? Well… AIIM did an excellent job in assembling a panel of end users from some high profile organizations that were able to speak very eloquently on the challenges confronting them in information management – from basic records management and archiving to the critical issues of serving global customers with information in almost every conceivable format. The panelists were top quality speakers from The Church of England, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited and The International Criminal Court. They explained real world problems for which there are no easy answers – for information access, management, analysis and processing. 

It’s obvious from the discussion that the “digital workplace” is the end game, and that reaching that goal is a journey of many steps. But the real challenge seems to be figuring what steps to take when and how. Implementing advanced RPA solutions ahead of getting control of the thousands of documents that exist in your Dropbox or OneDrive folders would sound a bit foolish, because surely even robots need to know where the information is in order to execute a process step or two! Or implementing advance content intelligence and AI across all sources of information when you can’t even address your customer emails in a timely manner would make no sense. 

The immediate challenge, and one that vendors can help solve, is more around the practices, methodologies, processes and approaches that help their customers embrace more productive ways of working in planned steps on a digital workplace roadmap. Each conversation with the customer should acknowledge that even though there may be similarities, each company’s roadmap will be different in some way and therefore the future of work at each organization will also be different.

I believe it is every vendor’s responsibility to have an opinion and vision on The Future of Work as it pertains to their technology and solutions – and that doesn’t mean a technology pitch which focuses on product features and functions, but a well thought through vision for how their products and solutions can help their customers achieve specific steps on their roadmap to a digital workplace. Examples could be case management solutions for a range of critical business tasks that are related to complaints irrespective of the source of the complaint (web, social media, email, paper, voice etc) that automates basic manual tasks using RPA technology and executes predictive analysis on incoming complaints to match a specific customer service professionals skillset and maybe even their personality to the “tone” of the complaint. 

The roots of these solutions that help customers achieve their digital workplace vision are very much in the technologies many of us know well – the capture and identification of content, the management of information, the automation of manual tasks using business process automation technologies, etc. However, the narrative around these solutions has changed and its absolutely critical that vendors who once painted themselves as “Enterprise Content Management” or “Document Capture” solution providers now reinvent themselves. They need to recast their Go-To-Market Strategies, Positioning & Messaging and their Pipeline Development efforts to reflect this new world and the journey towards the digital workplace.  Having an opinion and vision for The Future of Work is no longer optional, it is imperative and should be front and center in all vendor positioning, from the web site to the sales presentations – anything less will condemn them to the back row in an increasingly noisy and hectic market place.