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Connecting Workers to Information in the Digital Workplace

2014-27-October-Information-Booth.jpgTwo billion jobs will be lost by 2030 … and that’s a good thing?

So says Paul Miller, author of the newly released book "The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering Digital Workplace Fit for the Future." Miller is quick to point out those lost jobs are menial, routine jobs which will be eliminated through automation technology. At the same time, new, more satisfying jobs will replace the lost ones.

This is no far-off prediction. According to Gartner Research, 60 percent of today’s US jobs are non-routine, up from 40 percent in 1975. And automation of routine work is already changing the nature of how "stuff" gets done. For example, in the 2012 book "Race Against the Machine," MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee show how the automation of transportation provided by driverless cars will soon eliminate 4.5 million jobs.

What Will Workers Be Doing?

As routine jobs are eliminated through automation, new job opportunities will become available to humans, but they will require new skills and they will be driven by new technologies. These jobs will be information-intensive. They will favor workers who can identify connections between seemingly unrelated events, and who can apply these connections to solve complex problems. Identifying connections will mandate finding information "needles" in data "hay stacks," but finding that information will prove challenging. According to an IDC study, employees already spend considerable time searching for information they need to do their jobs, but fail to find what they need nearly 50 percent of the time.


‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’

It will only get worse, partly because workers will be searching for the information from a host of disparate devices with distinct interfaces. According to Gartner Research, employees will soon be carrying four to six devices to get work done. But there’s more to it. Using these multiple devices, workers will be consuming and processing a dizzying amount of information originating from a wide-range of applications and data stores. And while the vast majority of these resources are hosted on-premises today, this too is changing.

Gartner predicts that by 2017, 50 percent of an organization’s business data will reside outside the physical data center walls, up from 10 percent today. As business data migrates beyond the data center to the cloud, it will become increasingly dispersed across many providers. In a Gartner survey of workers, 75 percent respondents report having six or more content repositories and 34 percent report having three or more search engines. It’s easy to see why it’s hard (and will become even harder) to obtain a coherent view of work information.

The obvious solution would be to consolidate the number of information sources, but it’s too late for that. Workers today have an almost infinite set of cloud service options to solve every problem from file storage and collaboration to ERP and CRM. All they need to get started is a credit card. So it’s no surprise that Forrester advises organizations that “the key is to have multiple ways to offer employees the right application experiences on the devices they use, where they work.”

Not So Fast

If it were only so easy. IT is struggling to keep in sync with business workers. A workplace survey released last week noted a consistent 25 percent gap between the business services actually available to employees vs. what business users think is available. For example, the survey found that 58 percent of IT respondents said document sharing is available in their organizations, but only 33 percent of business workers reported being aware of such capabilities. This gap is what drives many workers to seek out their own solutions, like Dropbox, which further fragments the organization’s information stores.

What Can You Do?

There’s no turning back the clock, so organizations need to get smart about supporting the evolving workforce. Here are several developments you need to follow to stay on top of in the rapidly-shifting digital landscape:

Cloud ecosystems

As departments and individual users opt for specialized cloud services, the future of an organization’s data stores will become even more fragmented. In response, cloud service providers are scrambling to create meta-cloud ecosystems that federate services from multiple partners into a single user experience. Examples include Microsoft Office Graph, IBM Cloud and SalesForce1. However, expectations that a single vendor will be able to provide a coherent view of an organization’s complete set of cloud services are unrealistic. Workers will continue to opt for the most appropriate cloud service for each task, whether the service is part of the incumbent enterprise cloud ecosystem or not.

An alternative approach being considered is creating a (virtual) meta-cloud from multiple cloud service providers. This approach involves cumbersome and ongoing cloud service integration, and it introduces a number of other sticky issues like security, privacy and performance.

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