How tech will trans­form the of­fice

Chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer at global workspace provider Re­gus, An­dre Sharpe, re­veals the in­no­va­tions that will change the work­place in the months and years ahead

Gulf Business - - CONTENTS -

Build­ings will re­pair them­selves

Pre­pare to say good­bye to the of­fice build­ing, as we know it. The minia­tur­i­sa­tion of mi­crochips com­bined with a re­duc­tion in cost means it’s now in­cred­i­bly easy for items to be con­nected to the in­ter­net. The sprawl­ing web of the In­ter­net of Things (IoT) in­cludes every­thing from smart tooth­brushes to door locks that are con­trolled re­motely.

Within the of­fice, the IoT will help em­ploy­ees to adapt spa­ces to their in­di­vid­ual re­quire­ments – from light­ing to tem­per­a­ture and even air qual­ity. The sys­tems that un­der­pin these el­e­ments will be fully au­to­mated within the next three years. In older build­ings, busi­nesses will add sen­sors with the ca­pa­bil­ity for staff cus­tomi­sa­tion. There’ll be a rad­i­cal re­duc­tion in en­ergy con­sump­tion as a re­sult.

In the fu­ture, spa­ces will be­come smart enough to man­age them­selves: build­ings will re­quest their own main­te­nance and over­see their own health. This will hap­pen by em­bed­ding IoT sen­sors into the con­crete walls of new con­struc­tions.

An AI will an­swer your query

In the last four years, there’s been a boom in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI) and its sub­field – ma­chine learn­ing (ML). Com­put­ers are now able to an­a­lyse large datasets, im­ages and videos to in­ter­pret what’s in them and come to con­clu­sions. As well as be­ing used in au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles and Face­book’s news feed, this tech is com­ing to work­places.

This is go­ing to turn cus­tomer sup­port on its head. While cus­tomers to­day work with an agent to help them re­solve an is­sue, soon these things will be au­to­mated by AI and ML. Gone will be the tra­di­tional call cen­tre. In its place will be in­te­grated AI sys­tems that an­swer cus­tomer queries ef­fi­ciently and quickly. The world of tech sup­port will quickly fol­low.

Ex­ec­u­tives will clear their desks

It’s likely AI and ML will have a big role to play in the au­to­ma­tion of tasks. This means the type of work peo­ple do will shift. Ev­ery­one thinks AI and ML will re­place repet­i­tive and me­nial work, but it’s quite the op­po­site: it’s go­ing to re­place a lot of se­nior ex­ec­u­tives.

Se­nior lead­ers are hu­man like the rest of us, and there­fore at risk of re­ly­ing on lim­ited data or bas­ing their de­ci­sions too much on in­tu­ition or gut feel­ing. This will change within the next four years. The next wave of au­to­ma­tion will be the ap­pli­ca­tion of AI across in­dus­try data. Those mod­els will be able to pre­dict the ac­tions that need to be taken to im­prove a busi­ness sub­stan­tially more than prod­uct direc­tors, man­agers and mar­keters could.

The world will be­come aug­mented

The his­tory of vir­tual re­al­ity ( VR) can be traced back to 1968 and a head­set built by aca­demic Ivan Suther­land at the Univer­sity of Utah. Things have ad­vanced a long way since then – with Face­book’s $2bn pur­chase of Ocu­lus in 2014 a key mo­ment. Now, head­sets have be­come rel­a­tively af­ford­able, and the fields of aug­mented re­al­ity (AR) and mixed re­al­ity (MR) have emerged – blend­ing real-world ob­jects with those dis­played on dig­i­tal screens.

AR will ul­ti­mately see more ac­tion than VR. Be­yond the world of en­ter­tain­ment – gam­ing, mu­sic and films – the ap­peal of VR is too lim­ited and cum­ber­some for mass adop­tion. The po­ten­tial for AR is much greater. The lat­est iPhone and An­droid soft­ware pack­ages give app de­vel­op­ers con­sid­er­able free­dom and abil­ity to cre­ate AR sit­u­a­tions. Ex­pect Google Glass, or some­thing sim­i­lar, to make a big come­back.

The tech­nol­ogy will al­low for vir­tual meet­ings, vir­tual desk­tops and vir­tual in­ter­ac­tions. What’s more, these func­tion­al­i­ties will be added to mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions or head­sets that can over­lay in­for­ma­tion and make it pos­si­ble to com­plete mul­ti­ple tasks at once. AR is al­most the new workspace.

Ma­chines will get chat­tier

Tech­nol­ogy has al­lowed the world to be­come much more conversational. This isn’t just down to the growth of in­stantmes­sag­ing ap­pli­ca­tions, such as What­sApp and Face­book Messenger. In­creas­ingly, chat­bots and vir­tual as­sis­tants, such as Ama­zon’s Alexa, are able to help hu­mans with tasks. This will change how we in­ter­act with our phones, desk­top PCs and user in­ter­faces. And as it gets eas­ier for com­pa­nies to build conversational in­ter­faces, it will al­ter the way peo­ple work.

There’s no rea­son to build a com­pli­cated ap­pli­ca­tion with lots of forms, but­tons and in­ter­faces if you can ask some­thing a ques­tion and get it done. Tech­no­log­i­cal in­ter­ac­tion with prod­ucts will be­come in­creas­ingly seam­less. Or­gan­is­ing a meet­ing will be as sim­ple as say­ing to a voice as­sis­tant: “Book me a room." Based on in­for­ma­tion gleaned from di­aries and other sources, the sys­tem will know when to sched­ule it and who to in­vite.

Blockchain will grow

Blockchain is a com­plex sys­tem – a series of trans­ac­tions, rep­re­sented by blocks that are avail­able for all to see. The first blockchain was orig­i­nally con­cep­tu­alised in 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto, who in­vented the cryp­tocur­rency bit­coin at the same time. And, while the true iden­tity of Nakamoto has never been dis­cov­ered, the po­ten­tial for blockchain is be­ing re­alised. The dis­trib­uted ledger al­lows for trans­parency around al­most any­thing. Dis­trib­uted ledgers are es­sen­tially shared data­bases across mul­ti­ple par­ties: ev­ery­one can see trans­ac­tions that are made wher­ever they are and the his­tory of trans­ac­tions is pre­served. Also, be­cause there’s no cen­tral ad­min­is­tra­tor to the ledgers, they aren’t eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated by ma­li­cious ac­tors.

Banks will be the ear­li­est adopters of this tech­nol­ogy be­fore it trick­les down to other in­dus­tries. There’s also huge po­ten­tial for blockchain to in­crease trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity around build­ings. It’s how we can solve is­sues about prop­erty and deeds own­er­ship.

As the blockchain works on cryp­to­graphic proof – at its sim­plest, ad­vanced math­e­mat­ics – it can re­move the need for a third party in prop­erty deals, mean­ing buy­ers and sell­ers can di­rectly in­ter­act. Re­search from Deloitte has said the blockchain could be used within com­mer­cial real es­tate let­ting. A sys­tem could cre­ate a shared data­base of rental prop­er­ties, ver­ify the iden­ti­ties of buyer and sell­ers and as­sist in the cre­ation of smart, trace­able con­tracts.

Ma­chine learn­ing is trans­form­ing busi­nesses

Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ma­chine learn­ing is also putting a stop to in­ef­fi­cien­cies. Dur­ing the last six months, Re­gus has be­gun to an­a­lyse the data of its phone in­ter­ac­tions. Our call cen­tres get 10s of thou­sands of calls per month, and his­tor­i­cally it’s been a chal­lenge for the com­pany to han­dle so much cus­tomer in­ter­ac­tion and there have been times when staff are over­whelmed with the vol­ume. This has led to some deal­ings with cus­tomers and po­ten­tial clients not be­ing as thor­ough as they might be. By us­ing call data, we were able to train ma­chine learn­ing sys­tems to de­ter­mine when one of its call cen­tre mem­bers had spo­ken to a cus­tomer. If they hadn’t been in touch, a re­turn call could be sched­uled. We prob­a­bly im­proved our cus­tomer con­tact rate, get­ting hold of and re­solv­ing is­sues by 20 per cent. We now get back to them 99 per cent of the time.

Since then, the com­pany has pro­gressed to more ad­vanced an­a­lyt­ics. It isn’t just about de­ter­min­ing whether a cus­tomer has been con­tacted, but de­ter­min­ing what they are feel­ing. We moved on to more ad­vanced an­a­lyt­ics: what was the sen­ti­ment of the con­ver­sa­tion?

De­ter­min­ing whether a cus­tomer was sat­is­fied with the ser­vice they re­ceived from Re­gus al­lows the busi­ness to think in dif­fer­ent ways, while also serv­ing peo­ple bet­ter. It’s start­ing to make a real per­cent­age-point dif­fer­ence to our sales per­for­mance and cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion.

Tech­no­log­i­cal i n ter­ac­tion with prod­ucts will be­come in­creas­ingly seam­less

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