The digital office is the gateway to a powerful future
It empowers the people who engage our customers
It sounds futuristic that we will use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to automate our companies. It’s like the magazine articles and fantastic authors of a few decades ago are finally going to have their moment. Perhaps that’s why it may still sound as if it will be at some point in the future.
It’s already happening, and we have a precedent, albeit on an inferior scale. Our smartphones are a far cry from their GSM-based forebears of just a few years ago. They’re integral to our lives. We use them as maps, video entertainment and sometimes even for education. They’re our mobile record collections with access to almost any band, album or song at a moment’s notice. They inform us of global and local events, take our notes, tell us the weather forecast, compare shopping prices, and they’re the handiest encyclopaedias ever made. They’re likely to transform our lives even more in the future as they become the conduits for technologies such as augmented reality (AR).
Just as phones have connected us to the digital universe, the smart workplace is the portal between the physical and digital worlds, inhabited by intelligent devices that support the work of more efficient and productive people as they bridge the chasm of offices past and future.
Transforming the mundane
Accounting, legal, and HR are all good examples of how machine learning is transforming the mundane, repetitive processes of organisations. Even in our own country the South African Association of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) is working with other bodies to look at changing the university curriculum to account for machines taking over parts of the audit function. They’re simpler, repetitive tasks that machines are really good at. But to do so they must access information too often trapped in physical paper.
The digitalisation process is extremely beneficial when we introduce it initially to the low-hanging fruit in our businesses. We can quickly streamline by digitalising processes such as applications and approvals, sending and receiving documents, remote file access, and document collaboration through the hardware devices that are themselves the physical-digital gateways. And they go on to empower innovation by fostering collaboration rather than impeding it.
Conduits that empower machine learning
Digitalisation also introduces a different set of potential risks than paper documents. Cyber security is one of them. Nearly half of small businesses were breached digitally in a cyber attack in the past 12 months. That’s according to the 2018 Hiscox Small Business Cyber Risk Report.
And that is why confidentiality, integrity, yet also availability, guide our approach. Cyber security is a big and growing threat. We must take it seriously. Only trusted people should access information and documents. We must be able to ensure that documents and other data passing through the processes have remained safe in transit. And we must make the information accessible to the right people. There’s no point locking it down so tight that absolutely nobody can see it. In fact, that’s a potential conundrum in the modern office, in which we actually require information to be more widely accessible than ever before, yet simultaneously more secured.
Smart office solutions aren’t just about speeds and feeds. And they go beyond quick start up, energy efficiency, and basic document sharing. They’re the conduits that empower AI, machine learning, augmented reality, and the people who engage our suppliers, partners, and customers.