Emerging digital workplace trends for 2018 and beyond

Looking at enterprise trends for the new year, like the need for conversational experiences in processes and workflows.

In 2017, I wrote a lot about chatbots, plus the overarching theme of conversational experiences, workspaces, environments and platforms. All of that really served to underscore the growing reality of the paradigm shift towards conversational enterprises. With the rise of conversational workspace applications, there is a growing understanding of the need for conversational experiences within enterprise business processes and workflows.

Via open APIs, Business application technology providers can bring advanced collaboration capabilities into critical business processes and workflows. The idea is to create a conversational environment that supports conversational experiences internally and with external constituents, which include customers and business partners. Enterprises have to move towards being conversational with a seamless mix of people, data and applications in a contextual web.

I’ve always believed that the workplace demands a communications and collaboration continuum that’s tied to the internal and external processes that people are involved in daily. There has to be a high level of communications and collaboration continuity in which shared information, content, or data, which is pertinent to the business process, be in context with all collaborative interactions. So, as enterprise planners look to develop strategies around conversational interfaces, chatbots, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the goal has to be about moving towards conversational experiences.

Sorry for the long preamble there! However, in light of all this, and as many of my technology analyst peers are breaking out their crystal balls to make 2018 predictions, the “why” of any predicted trend has to be clear. What is happening in enterprises and among business decision makers? Here’s what I’m seeing coming on the horizon.

Under the charge of making enterprises more conversational, there is a targeted move towards cloud-based solutions for communications, collaboration and productivity. This has been emerging for some time, but will be more evident as enterprise planning and due diligence throughout 2017, result in specific procurement decisions around conversational workspaces and environments in 2018. We’ll see investments in chatbots be more targeted at not only customer facing scenarios, but also internal workflows in areas such as HR and IT.

In speaking with enterprise planners responsible for digital workplace strategy, especially around communications and collaboration, there is a disruptive shift towards looking with fresh eyes, with respect to what is next for the organization. This is why we’re seeing conversational experiences for both employees and customers become a huge driver in technology decisions. Incumbent providers cannot rest on their laurels as planners look across the technology landscape and begin making big cloud migration decisions to G Suite, Office 365 and then figure out what gaps need to be filled in to tie it all together. For example, in visual collaboration, Zoom has been disrupting traditional videoconferencing providers with its cloud offering.

Digital workplace technology decisions cannot be made in a vacuum. We’ll see organizations move towards more of a steering committee approach for technology procurement decisions, that include all lines of business having representation at the table. IT will not be a separate function, but embedded within all business functions such as sales, marketing and finance. This will lead to the emergence of digital workplace strategy and innovation functions and roles that will be charged with managing the scope of communications and collaboration for all the people across all functions. This will be particularly true for distributed organizations, where decision-making is becoming more decentralized per each region. They will need richer context to be more conversational.

As this is happening, behind the scenes from an infrastructure perspective, we will see organizations looking closely at private cloud investments for specific workloads. We’ll see the growth of both private and hybrid cloud scenarios. While public cloud has led in mindshare, with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure, companies will be looking at more dedicated or hybrid environments to access infrastructure and application development resources. Rackspace has been a leading voice in this movement and its recent partnership with HPE, proposes a pay-as-you-go services model for enterprises, similar to the popular public cloud model. Public Cloud providers are making moves in this area as well.

While there are lots of specific trends that will impact the digital workplace in 2018 and beyond, AI will continue to be an overarching theme and seam throughout all of these trends. As enterprises look to be more conversational, AI, machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) algorithms, will be critical decision criteria for planners evaluating digital workplace technologies. Also, integration will be critical between business applications, workflows and communication and collaboration tools. Applications will need to talk to each other. Business leaders will be looking to promote task and process automation, richer context and better conversational experiences for employees and customers.

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