The digital workplace in 2021: Five trends you can’t miss

    2020 made shifting gears in digital transformation a matter of survival. Now you need strategic decisions, for digital workplaces to become future-proof.

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    Covid has taught us the effect of exponential growth; even when it comes to digital transformation, we’re only at the inflection point: from now on, it will steadily go faster and become better. Let’s dive into the future – with five trends for the digital workplace in 2021 and beyond. 

    In April 2020, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella already stated that he had seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months. At Amplexor, we’ve witnessed this digital trend from the front row, as we supported customers to quickly make the transformation – in their internal interactions, with digital collaboration and employee experience, as well as in their external communication, with digital customer experience. And we’re convinced that this is not the end, but just the beginning.

    1. Teams is eating the digital workplace

    “Software is eating the world,” wrote Marc Andreessen, co-founder of legendary venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz in 2011. With this statement, he pointed out that any business was about to go through an unavoidable digital transformation, whether it's focused on technology or not.

     

    Today, we can equally claim that Microsoft Teams is eating the digital workplace. Never has a content and collaboration platform known such spectacular growth, from 20 million daily active users in November 2019 to 115 million, just one year later. This evolution has turned MS Teams into the de facto standard for digital workplace collaboration, which is reflected by the rapidly growing third-party ecosystem. Vendors which, until recently, competed head-to-head with MS Teams, have been forced to switch strategy and focus on extending Teams on aspects which have not (yet) been fully developed, such as compliance and archiving, governance, or business process integration for SAP, Salesforce and others. 

     

    At the same time, Microsoft goes full force into further development of the application: new features are being added at a relentless pace, and more and more Office apps are being integrated into Teams: SharePoint, Forms, Tasks, Power Apps, etc. Office 365 has de facto become a label from the past; today, it’s all about Teams.  

     

    The trend is clear: the digital workplace will run on Teams, and it will conveniently integrate most of your business apps, where relevant.  

    2. Low-code is still on a high

    Low-code has been a recurring theme in our trend predictions over the past years, and it has rapidly grown from niche to mainstream. Gartner even predicts that by 2024, 65% of enterprise application development will be in the low-code category.

    We see a continuing adoption of low-code, with two clear trends:

    First, there’s a democratization of low-code taking place. Until recently, low-code was the exclusive domain of specialized vendors such as OutSystems and Mendix. And while those remain clear leaders, we see that for example Microsoft is squeezing itself into the market, with their Power Platform. This means organizations can now start using low-code without a hefty license investment. Even in the digital collaboration and content management market, low-code has now been integrated in many platforms, such as OpenText AppWorks for case management, and OpenText D2 for general document management.

    Second, low-code platforms are expanding beyond traditional front-end/ back-end development. With the Microsoft Power Platform, low-code front-end development is still supported by Power Apps, while for the back-end, Power Automate comes to the rescue. But there’s (a lot) more: Power BI supports analytics and reporting, an integrated AI Builder takes care of intelligence infusion, Power Virtual Agents allows you to plug in smart chatbots, and Power Automate has recently added capabilities for Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

    3. Focus on the firstline

    Until now, digital workplace initiatives have often been exclusively targeted towards so-called white-collar workers. Most offices have now been freed from traditional paper shuffling, and pigeon holes, just like most interactions among knowledge workers, have been digitized. Firstline or so-called blue-collar workers have, however, often been largely excluded from this digital transformation. Often, they still get their information, schedules and tasks in paper format and rarely deliver their reports digitally. In many organizations, firstline workers even don’t have access to the intranet, while they are often your first customer touchpoints and should thus breathe the company culture.
    We believe that’s going to change now, and on multiple levels. Information sharing and team collaboration will also be digitized for frontline workers, since there’s a lot of efficiency to be gained here, with minimal effort.

    By giving firstline workers access to Teams, for example, they get all they need to securely consult and share product information, best practices, manuals or whatever information is key for them. But there’s more in Teams: they’ll be able to consult and adapt their work schedules with the Shifts app, with Tasks they’ll be able to manage their task schedule and with Walkie Talkie they can even turn their Teams into a push-to-talk device to communicate with colleagues.

    The area of blue-collar process digitization presents a lot of low hanging fruit. Typically, a lot of processes have remained paper-based, because they are small and not perceived as core. Think about inspection or control processes, after sales etc. Until recently, such processes were not on IT’s priority list for digitization, as the benefits would not have justified the implementation cost. This is now changing, with low-code tools such as Microsoft’s Power Platform or OpenText AppWorks. They make the effort to digitize processes up to 10 times smaller, still bringing all benefits of real-time integrated digital information and automation.

    All of the above obviously needs to be implemented with a focus on mobile, as smartphones and tablets are core devices for firstline workers.

    4. Revival of the "boring": security, compliance & governance

    With the lockdown in March 2020, organizations were forced to go completely online, in just a matter of days. Organizations which had scheduled a roll-out of digital platforms such as Microsoft Teams over a period of several months or a year, now had to make that switch within just one weekend. IT departments literally flipped the switch for digital platforms to ensure business continuity. But as companies rushed to get their employees up and running remotely, inevitably some shortcuts were taken. In many cases, privacy, data protection, compliance and governance had to move to the backseat. But these "black sheep" of information management are key in any modern digital organization.

    We therefore predict that these topics will be high on the agenda for 2021 – they have to. Focus initially has been on identity management, authentication and authorization, to provide secure access to data. But in 2021, we’ll see organizations move further in security, with attention to automatic detection and enhanced protection of sensitive information, prevention of accidental sharing and improved security monitoring.

    Compliance is another concern that has often been postponed with the quick platform roll-outs, but it will be back soon. The need for compliance is growing and more scrupulously monitored. The days of digital Wild West are over; regulations such as GDPR and other sector- or country-specific regulation cannot be ignored.

    Not to be overlooked, governance is a broad and somewhat vague term – but the absence of it can be easily illustrated by the information chaos that many large organizations ran into, after letting employees go wild on Microsoft Teams for a few months. Amplexor’s mantra in this respect is that without proper governance measures, the chaos within your digital platforms will always increase. Obviously, there’s a trade-off to be made between user experience and governance enforcement. But in a Teams environment, for instance, with add-ons such as Amplexor TeamHub, you can make a major governance step without sacrificing user flexibility and productivity.

    5. The democratization of intelligence

    We’ve seen a lot of hype around Artificial Intelligence in the past years; but in practice, the applications were restricted to rather small and well-defined domains, such as credit card fraud detection, or as a hidden layer in consumer applications, such as Netflix, which as a result may have recommended The Queen’s Gambit to you, based on your viewing preferences.

    We predict that in 2021, AI and automation will claim their space in the workplace. Based on the enormous amount of data that cloud providers collected over the past years, they can now build all kinds of productivity-enhancing AI models to be plugged into the digital workplace. And it’s happening right now. Teams already provides AI-driven elements such as live captions, meeting transcripts, automatic translations and meeting layouts, superimposing the presenter’s video feed, on top of the content. But that’s just a first taste of what’s coming; with Project Cortex, Microsoft will combine its AI algorithms with the massive data it collected, to integrate automated metadata extraction, topic detection and integration of external knowledge.

    In conclusion, although for most of us 2020 may have been a hell of a year, in most organizations it undoubtedly fueled digital transformation more than ever. The groundwork has been carried out; the noise points in the same (digital) direction.

    Make 2021 a year to further develop your digital domain – it’s the arena where any business will be won … or lost.

    Published on    Last updated on 20/01/2021

    #Digital Workplace, #Digital Transformation, #Artificial Intelligence

    About the author

    Tom Laureys is Solution Manager ECM at Amplexor based in Belgium. For the past 10 years, Tom has been helping clients across industries find the right technology to effectively digitize their business processes and improve collaboration and productivity. His combination of strategic thinking and expertise in a range of platforms - from Alfresco and Documentum to SharePoint and Office 365 – grant him the capacity to capture new trends on the market and turn them into solutions for our customers.

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