Predictions for 2018 (maybe!)

Posted 8 December 2017 12:00 AM by Barry Wakelin, Operations Director @ ClearPeople

Predicting the future is a notoriously difficult task that more often than not results in the hapless visionary being proved sadly and significantly wrong just a few months down the line.  So, it is with some trepidation that I accepted the challenge to predict some of the trends most likely to affect our clients in 2018.  Let’s meet here again in a year’s time and laugh about how I inexplicably missed the rapid adoption of neural implants and the dying days of coffee shops on our high streets.

And mention of neural implants may be less far in the future than we think.  I suspect that my generation may be the last to live a full life without neural augmentation (I always fancied being Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man!) And although neural augmentation is still some way off for most of us, we have seen artificial intelligence (AI) take some enormous steps forward in 2017. The focus for 2018 appears to be all about augmentation. In other words, providing AI that works with knowledge workers to help them do their job better. Most of us who work with information spend too much time doing drudge tasks that AI is better placed to do quicker and more consistently to free us to add our human value to decide between right and wrong, use our gut instinct and years of experience to decide the final outcomes.

The range of augmentations have increased dramatically in the past year, spurred on by access to near-infinite compute power in the cloud and the sizeable investments being made in AI-driven technology such as autonomous vehicles. Only a year ago it would have been prohibitively expensive to have an AI scan an image and summarise useful and informative facts about the image. The same applies to unstructured documentation in multiple languages, and yet these functions are now available as a service at a very reasonable cost. At the most prosaic level, this means that in 2018 the age-old problem of trying to classify information in your intranet or website, maintain tags and guess your information architecture can be largely handed over to AI.

Artificial Intelligence

We strongly believe that process augmentation driven by ever-improving AI will be one of the biggest success stories of 2018 and it’s why we’ve created a dedicated team to investigate, develop and bring to market AI solutions relevant to our clients.

AI plays closely with the next prediction and it’s one you may question the validity of - Mobile.  Mobile?  Surely that’s old hat? We’ve all had smartphones for years, we use them more than we use PCs and tablets. Judging by the number of people in London who walk blindly into me because they’re staring at their smartphone screen, we live more in the virtual reality of our phones than in the real world!

And yet, how many of us do real business tasks on our phones? Other than answering mails, checking our calendars and finding our way to meetings, do you really do much work on your phone? I certainly don’t. It’s too difficult and the interface is not conducive to doing anything much more complex than checking information. Once again AI may be the answer. Now that more and more of our back-end systems reside in the cloud it’s easier than ever to access them from anywhere. But we need ways to make it easier to do so whilst away from our desks. Two technologies have come together to challenge the way we interact on the move. Vastly improved voice recognition and AI.

By using AI-driven bots we can take users through daily tasks either by voice or short, written inputs or clicks. The bot can learn common needs, recommend information to us based on the task we’re performing, our location and the previous behaviours of ourselves and others. Those slow, laborious hierarchical menus so beloved of call centres can be replaced by more useful interactions that deliver genuinely useful information and which guide us to the information or outcomes we need in the minimum number of steps. Again, the automotive industry, this time combined with the likes of Amazon and petrol forecourt companies, are pushing ahead with this type of technology to reduce distractions when driving while, at the same time, enabling people to order shopping to be collected from a petrol station or to be delivered to their door by the time they get home. It may seem that this is one shopping opportunity too many for some of us, but the concept can be applied to a wide range of business tasks to improve adherence to processes and to ensure that we have the information we need to be successful in our human interactions.  

Imagine that you’re going to a meeting and you want to be prepared but you haven’t had access to a desktop for two days. Pulling together the information you need about the people you’re going to meet will be time consuming and very difficult on a mobile device. But what if your company AI recognises that you’re going to the meeting from your calendar and pulls together information from your corporate CRM, ERP system, LinkedIn, the client’s website and your intranet? You can ask for specific elements of that data or consume the lot and the AI will provide it in a format easiest for you to consume as you travel. Using your mobile for complex business tasks suddenly seems a real possibility.

And my final prediction? Yet more employee power. It seems a long time ago for many of us, but we still find a surprising number of businesses who try to impose device restrictions and limit the systems that their staff must use to do their job. We’re seeing even the most conservative of businesses being challenged to enable their staff to interact with their colleagues in the most efficient way possible. That often means social networking of some form, mobile and tablet-based interfaces, and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing rather than static hierarchies of management.

employee power

All these changes represent challenges to organisations whose IT investment has been lacking for years. A new generation of millennials is unwilling to adapt to these old methods of working and businesses are instead undergoing dramatic digital transformations. The upside for those who manage to make the transition are highly tangible with improved productivity, hidden value unearthed and utilised on a daily basis and higher levels of staff morale and lower staff turnover.  Those unable to make the transition quickly enough will suffer.

At ClearPeople, we have spent much of 2017 refining and continually improving the services we provide to support digital transformation and we’re very excited about what we expect to be an acceleration in digital transformation in 2018.  For many, GDPR will be a spur to review, revise and reinvent their IT systems and processes and when doing so it will be important to consider all aspects of digital transformation, to change what would otherwise be little more than a cost to be borne into an investment for improvement. By targeting relatively small, manageable projects, continually evaluating levels of user adoption and user experience, 2018 could be the year when businesses change their IT procurement policies to become more agile, and make many smaller investments based on results derived from a combination of AI-driven analytics and human-to-human engagement that measures what’s working and what’s not. In this brave new world, it’s possible to change direction quickly without incurring massive costs, place small amounts of investment where it’s most valuable, and admit errors early whilst celebrating and reinforcing successes.

We hope to be with you every step of the way, if only so I can try to ensure that some of my predictions come true in 2018!

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